Of all the recent Hollywood productions bestowed upon us, (in a time of season that is somewhat equivalent to every moviegoer's Christmas) "Inherent Vice" is one that will logically be neglected, and rightfully so. It is certainly not a film for the casual audience, and I'm not quite convinced that it can be deemed worthy of acknowledgement by even the most perceptive individuals, considering its overemphasis on dialogue and a plot that is, let's face it, eccentrically muddled.
Quite frankly, however, the story makes little difference here. Any attempt to weave a coherent narrative out of subject matter such as: Nazis, dishonest FBI officers, Indo-Chinese heroin cartels, communism, cocaine-fueled dentist practices, kidnapping cults, Aryan Brotherhoods, Last Supper pizza parties, and the Bermuda Triangle, would be nearly impractical as it is, yet that is its intention--albeit--in a satirical fashion, which mostly takes shots at law enforcement and the discrimination against the legality of marijuana.
Larry "Doc" Sportello, a man whose surrounding environment of the fictional town of Gordita Beach, California, serves as a pure reflection of character, is an idiosyncratic private investigator and chain smoking doper. (The latter we are told come from the planet of Neptune, which would surely explain the alien treatment.) He is quirky in attitude and demeanor and gains his clients through the referrals of the local head shops.
Although, his personality can best be summarized by way of a subtle cinematography technique, which in this particular instance, is the utilization of soft, or blurred, focus. In a relatively standard introductory scene for a crime drama (epitomized by that of "Chinatown"), Sportello is left in this obscured attention, while he converses with his newest client, from the point of his office settings (which would be his small beach house living room), until he makes his way into the kitchen to open the refrigerator door, in order to retrieve a beer.
Then, and only then, does he come back into focus, and more importantly, back into consciousness.
Joaquin Phoenix, who very much resembles a mixture of Marvel's popular action mutant in Wolverine, and a 1970s John Lennon in appearance, was made for this role, partly because it accommodates the interpretive nature of his acting personality. He is very methodical in his approach to this character, yet in a seemingly phlegmatic, and rather dull-witted fashion. (This leads to low-toned mumblings and inaudible phrases at times, when Doc waits for his mind to catch up with his vocal cords.)
Phoenix's chemistry with the supporting cast is arguably the most vital aspect of the film itself, and it cannot hurt that such performances become honorable in their own right. Katherine Waterston is simply magnificent as Shasta Fay Hepworth, a former lover of Sportello and constitute of the central story line. Waterston is a relatively unknown actress, although I am sure that she will be hard to forget after such a sexually driven performance. (Best encapsulated by a scene in which Shasta and Doc succumb to their sensual vulnerabilities.)
Other notable personas include those played by Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson, yet none more integral than that of Josh Brolin, who dons the persona of an LAPD lieutenant. Brolin is equally as odd in manner, and it is this improbable relationship with our resident protagonist that fuels many brilliant and mildly amusing scenes.
It is quite obvious as to which realm "Inherent Vice's" theme rests, and that is in its impeccable display of character. (Although there is a hint of an emotional mood of a sexual influence, brought about by many scenes, and one bizarre motif in which we awkwardly watch as Brolin gags himself with a chocolate covered banana.)
Additionally, however, it is also unmistakable as to its inner miscalculations. We begin the picture with an image of an attractive woman, both in voice and appearance, whose voice-overs subsequently become utilized to provide background information, and character biographies, through a poetic, yet modern tone. Even though we can ascertain that it is actually the subconscious of Doc, in physical form, it only adds, rather unnecessarily, to the befuddlement of an already outlandish atmosphere.
What Paul Thomas Anderson has accomplished here is a creation that is completely driven by the hipster counter-culture, the participants of which try their damnedest to mimic the unforgettable style and flair of a more peaceful time in the world. It will undoubtedly become a cult classic and will most likely be relished for its zany mentality and permeating drug use.
On more of a professional note, I could not help but to notice the Academy Award nomination that this film has received for Best Costume Design. Have we lost all sense of acuity? Sure, the wardrobes presented are on par with any period piece, both in impression and authenticity, but how hard could it have been to find an appropriate look for this decade at hand? Are we awarding a few trips to the second-hand store here? It only goes to show how far we have strayed from the glamorous age of costume supremacy.