Posted January 17, 2015 by William Dunmyer in Worst of 2014

Inherent Vice: One of the Worst of 2014

I wanted so much to like Inherent Vice because it was made by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia,┬áThere Will Be Blood) and based on a Thomas Pynchon novel. But there’s no denying it: Inherent Vice is a disaster, one of the worst films of 2014. On a scale of one to ten, I give it a 4.

Its failure is reminiscent of Michael Cimino‘s 1980 fiasco Heaven’s Gate. Anderson is lucky the press have spared him. This could easily have turned into a Cimino-esque public-relations catastrophe.

Inherent Vice is so all over the place, with so many characters, that there’s no way to follow what’s going on. There are about a dozen different story lines all thrown together in a sketchy mess.

Pynchon fans will no doubt say that this was intentional, to produce a hallucinatory effect. I actually have no doubt that that’s true. The problem is that this attempt was a complete failure. Noble effort, failure in delivery.

A hallucinatory effect is supposed to be captivating, trance-inducing. Inherent Vice is the opposite of mesmerizing. It’s annoying, like trying to make out the words of someone who incessantly mumbles. I sat there repeatedly, saying, “What?” Rather than a kaleidoscope, it’s a muddle. Nothing comes through.

The film fidgets around in a hundred different places but does really nothing. Neither the mind nor the spirit gets engaged even for a minute. It’s just one hazy scene after the next.

Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead role and is on-screen 98% of the time. He does a reasonably good job. The film’s failure is in no way attributable to him or any of the other 20 or so actors. The blame lies with the filmmaker. Anderson tried for something radical. You have to give him credit for trying something so difficult, but he was not able to pull it off.

Phoenix’s character is a doctor. He’s also something of a private eye, trying to figure out what happened to his ex-girlfriend. Her disappearance might have something to do with a wealthy family of real-estate developers but might also have to do with a drug ring that goes by the name Golden Fang.

Thrown in here and there, for no clear reason, is a detective (played with admirable gusto by Josh Brolin) whose moniker is Bigfoot. Unfortunately there are a blizzard of other characters, one played by Owen Wilson, another by Benicio Del Toro, another by Reese Witherspoon, another by Martin Short… and on and on and on. Clearly every actor in Hollywood wanted to work with Anderson, and he squeezed in as many of them as possible. Sadly, after this disaster I don’t think there are going to be as many stars knocking down Anderson’s door.

Anderson’s last film, The Master, which also starred Phoenix, was also weak. Not a catastrophe by any means, but weak by almost everyone’s standards (including mine). Thus Anderson has gotten himself into a pretty deep rut: two weak films in a row, one an abject failure. I am starting to wonder if There Will Be Blood will go down in history as Anderson’s only great film. I hope he can recover and reconnect with the artistic impulses and instincts that led him to that triumph in 2007. But, alas, I’m starting to wonder if that will happen.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.