Inherent Vice

Movie Review

Inhernt Vice 2

The fault dear Brutus lies in our our selves, not in our stars.

The movie  Inherent Vice (2014) is based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon of the same name. Inherent vice is a maritime term used to describe cargo by insurance companies.  It is also sometimes applied to ships. There is a whole discussion around this term in the book which is also echoed in the movie:

“Isn’t that like original sin?” Doc wondered?

“It’s what you can’t avoid,” Sauncho said. “Stuff marine policies don’t like to cover. Usually applies to cargo – like eggs break – but sometimes it’s also the vessel carrying it. Like why bilges have to be pumped out?”

“Like the San Andreas Fault,” it occurred to Doc. “Rats living up in the Palm trees.”

“Well,” Sauncho blinked, “maybe if you wrote a marine policy on L. A., considering it, for some defined reason, to be a boat…”

“Hey, how about a ark? That’s a boat, right?”

“Ark insurance?”

“That big disaster Sortilege is always talking about, way back when Lemuria sank into the Pacific. Some of the people who escaped then are spoze to’ve fled here for safety. Which makes California like an ark.”

“Oh, nice refuge. Nice, stable, reliable, piece of real estate.”

Inhernt Vice 4

Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth

Director Paul Thomas Anderson gives us a faithful rendition of the book in his 2014 movie, with only a few scenes and locales dropped, which doesn’t seem to have hurt the movie to any appreciable extent. One change, which I thought was inspired, was to create a voice-over narrative by one of the minor but important characters from the book: Sortilege. This character seems to have a spiritual dimension and a clairvoyance which allows her a certain omniscience helping to fill in some of the gaps in the rather convoluted plot.

The story takes place in a seedy beachfront community in Southern California in 1970 right around the time of the Manson murders. It marks the end of the ’60’s which, as Hunter S. Thomson described in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was a time when the high wave of the culture had reached its high-water mark and rolled back into the desert.

Josh Brolin

Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin

The movie is chocked full of interesting and weird characters,  some hippies and some straight. There is the expected clash between the the straight culture and the counter culture. The story, as I mentioned above, is quite convoluted but I will attempt to describe it here. It is the story of California, not about water rights, but  about real estate development. It ain’t Chinatown, Jake, it’s the Long Goodbye. Part Raymond Chandler and part Joan Didion, it is both a comedy crime caper and a film noir.


Katherine Waterston and Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix plays stoner private eye Doc Sportello. His nemesis is Lt. Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornson, played with devilish glee by Josh Brolin. Doc’s ex, Shashta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), brings him a case involving her new boy friend, the married real estate mogul, Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts). It seems that Mickey’s wife and her boyfriend are plotting to to kidnap the hapless developer and they want Shasta in on the caper which involves having Mickey committed to a loony bin. Shasta Fay is not sure how much loyalty she owes Mickey and that is why she shows up at Doc’s. Things get complicated from there and include a crime syndicate named The Golden Fang which is also the name of a mysterious yacht.


There are many subplots, twists, and turns that are all somehow connected. There is another missing persons case involving Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) who turns up at the same loony bin as Mickey Wolfman. Doc is also involved with pretty assistant district attorney Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) who helps him out with some confidential files related to the case. Doc pays a visit to the headquarters of the Golden Fang where he encounters coked out dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short). Doc is aided in his endeavors by maritime lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio del Toro).


Benicio del Toro and Joaquin Phoenix

I had to watch the movie twice and read the book before it made total sense to me. But it was worth the effort. I will tell you I loved this movie and consider it one of the best films to come out of 2014. It was underrated then, I thought, but since has gained popularity and is tending upwards.

I highly recommend this entertaining and thought provoking movie!








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