The Golden Fang

Inherent Vice

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There will be Blood, The Master, Boogie Nights)

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Eric Roberts, Jena Malone, Michael Kenneth Williams, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Martin Donovan, Maya Rudolph, Serena Scott Thomas

In the spirit of Magnolia and Boogie Nights, director Paul Thomas Anderson assembles an eclectic cast of stars for his cinematic adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice with Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Gladiator) as stoner private detective Larry Doc Sportello who goes on a labyrinthine search for his ex-girlfriend Shasta Hepworth played by Katherine Waterston (Michael Clayton, Taking Woodstock).

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Set in 1971, during the Nixon administration, in California, Inherent Vice is a rambling and extended tour de force of the hippie’s drug culture of Southern California involving kinky and corrupt cops especially Lt Detective Christian “BigFoot” Bjornsen wonderfully played by the orally fixated Josh Brolin, straight laced deputy district attorneyPenny Kimball played by Reese Witherspoon and an elusive government informant Coy Harlingen played by Owen Wilson.

Oscar winner for director Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic Benicio del Toro also makes a brief appearance as Doc’s legal adviser Sauncho Smilax Esq, but this is very much Phoenix’s film and he inhabits every frame with a sort of woozy ease that is at times prolonged and other times fascinating. This is by no means Phoenix’s best performance and does not match his brilliant portrayal of the boozy drifter Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s superb critically acclaimed film The Master.

At a running time of just over two and a half hours, one cannot blame the viewer for getting slightly confused and bored. Inherent Vice has an intricate plot with lots of subtexts, subplots and quirky visual references but only serious fans of Paul Thomas Anderson will appreciate his laboured approach in adapting this contemporary novel to the big screen.

The best scenes are actually between Phoenix and Witherspoon who reunite after the success of the Oscar winning James Mangold film Walk the Line. Several of the other quite bizarre sequences are truly amazing to watch but the entire story could have done with some efficient editing.

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Audiences should also watch out for cameos by Eric Roberts, Martin Donovan and a crazed Martin Short. While the costumes and production design for Inherent Vice is spot on capturing the origins of the drug fueled and nefarious 1970’s, Paul Thomas Anderson film could have used some serious editing as this languid narrative tends to bewilder and obfuscate the viewer, which the point of the story.

Inherent Vice refers to possible drugs being smuggled into America on a mysterious vessel known as The Golden Fang from Indo-China or modern day Vietnam. This film is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Magnolia and Robert Altman’s far superior film Short Cuts. Not sure if Inherent Vice will quite make it to the cult status of The Master.

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