Film Review: “Inherent Vice”

Morgan Smith

With a cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice” is inherently awesome.

This film is the latest in Anderson’s crime-filled, counterculture, ultra-stylized filmography, focusing on 1970s drug trade in L.A., and a welcome addition to the L.A. crime drama canon in general.


Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a marijuana-smoking LAPD detective investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, and the scandal said girlfriend alerted him to right before she vanished.

Inherent Vice
Image courtesy of IMDb. “Inherent Vice” was released on Jan. 9.

Similar to “L.A. Confidential,” the plot of this film is incredibly complex and confusing. I love it. It’s so rare to see a movie where you have absolutely no idea about how anything is going to play out or how it will end. And with no plot holes and a nice bow to tie everything up, “Inherent Vice” left me thoroughly satisfied.

It is absolutely necessary that the film’s plot be this complicated. It is told through the point of view of Doc, a hippie, with quirky narration done by Joanna NewsomAs his outlook on the world would be hazy and confused, so is that of the audience. 

From start to finish, you will watch the film as if you are actually a detective trying to solve the case. There are few things about a film more engaging than having a puzzle to solve. This is why Christopher Nolan‘s films are so popular, as well as crime drama in general.

The performances of “Inherent Vice” are amazing as well. Phoenix always delivers, and, as previously stated, he was supported by an A-list cast.

Fun fact: Reese Witherspoon is best buds with Phoenix. This results in the two having their own strange, but awesome, system for communicating when acting together.

Additionally, the film is so pretty to look it at. L.A. is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and Anderson showcases it wonderfully.

Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit and Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges did their usual amazing work to recreate the vintage ’70s feel of the city. Bridges is nominated for his work in “Inherent Vice” this year.

With Anderson’s signature use of 35mm film, “Inherent Vice” is given a classic, worn feel, perfectly going along with the tone of the movie.

Anderson was nominated for the sixth time at the Academy Awards this year for Best Adapted Screenplay. “Inherent Vice” was based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pychon, a writer whose work was considered near impossible to adapt to film until now.


“Inherent Vice” had its wide release Jan. 9, but came back to the Lyric Cinema Café Feb. 6.

Collegian A&E Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at or on Twitter @MDSFilms.