'Inherent Vice' Early Reviews: P.T. Anderson's Latest is Anti-Oscar Bait

P.T. Anderson's stoner detective romp 'Inherent Vice' is getting mixed to positive reviews for its labyrinthine plot and strange humor.

Inherent Vice early reviews

Awards season will be up on soon, which explains why of late there's been an increase in the number of somber trailers for genre movie that are traditionally more Oscar-friendly, such as biopics (The Theory of Everything), wartime dramas (The Water Diviner), or biopics set primarily during wartime (The Imitation Game, Unbroken). And then we have the unabashedly bizarre, offbeat, and slapstick-friendly trailer for Inherent Vice, the upcoming 1970s detective/neo-Noir romp from writer/director P.T. Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master), based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon.

Inherent Vice reunites Anderson with his Master star Joaquin Phoenix, this time with the latter portraying pothead P.I. Larry "Doc" Sportello, who gets drawn into a case that involves the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, set against the historic backdrop of life in early Nixon-era Los Angeles. What happens from there is, well, a bit difficult to explain, but his investigation brings Doc face to face with a collection of exceptionally unusual characters (brought to life by such reputable character actors as Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short, among others).

The trailer for Inherent Vice, as mentioned before, doesn't so much offer insight on the film's narrative as it does showcase the cast's collective oddball performances and distinctly '70 fashion choices, be it Phoenix's mad sideburns, Brolin's flattop haircut, or Short's velvet suit and pants (or lack thereof). Anderson's latest film premiered at the 2014 New York Film Festival during this past week, and you can find out what some of the reviews say thus far, below.

Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice
Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin in 'Inherent Vice'

Scott Foundas - Variety

['Inherent Vice] is a groovy, richly funny stoner romp that has less in common with “The Big Lebowski” than with the strain of fatalistic, ’70s-era California noirs... Not for all tastes (including the Academy’s), this unapologetically weird, discursive and totally delightful whatsit will repel staid multiplex-goers faster than a beaded, barefoot hippie in a Beverly Hills boutique.

Todd McCarthy - THR

[Viewers] coming to this material cold will find it pretty daunting to connect all the dots. This means that what really counts here, as in a head-scratching classic like The Big Sleep, is the sizzle of individual scenes, the atmosphere, the innuendo, the electricity between the characters and actors. In this regard, Inherent Vice is intermittently successful but only up to a point.

Lou Lumenick - New York Post

Paul Thomas Anderson’s sporadically funny stoner noir “Inherent Vice” is so unconcerned with coherence that it makes Howard Hawks’ legendarily confusing “The Big Sleep” look like a model of narrative clarity. Even Robert Altman’s Raymond Chandler adaptation, “The Long Goodbye,” is probably [easier] to follow.

Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice
Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in 'Inherent Vice'

Robbie Collin - The Telegraph

Underneath the crackpot humour, there’s something else at work [that] will surely come into sharper focus on a second viewing, when you aren’t so preoccupied with wolfing down the spaghetti tangle of the plot. What’s clear from a bleary initial encounter, though, is that the film is stupendous: as antic as Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love, but with The Master and There Will Be Blood’s uncanny feel for the swell and ebb of history.

Matt Patches - IGN

As truths reveal themselves, the high grows stronger and stronger. With a peculiar comedic force, visuals blur and erupt off screen, becoming more like feelings. Not an easy movie to wrap the mind around. But while Inherent Vice is barely penetrable, it's utterly mesmerizing and one of the grooviest movies of the year.

Xan Brooks - The Guardian

Inherent Vice [turns] out to be a ramshackle triumph; a colourful detour disguised as a crime caper, making antic hay from Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel. Anderson's yarn arrived at the New York film festival confidently billed as one of the prizes of the autumn season... And yet Vice, for all its virtues, is too wild, baggy and disreputable to play well with Academy members - and this is surely for the best.

Joaquin Phoenix and Benicio del Toro in Inherent Vice
Joaquin Phoenix and Benicio del Toro in 'Inherent Vice'

With exceptions such as CS's review (which calls the film "mostly a worthless waste of time"), most of the Inherent Vice reviews agree the film is memorably weird and plays out as someone's comical drug-induced trip, much as The Master resembled someone else's dramatic fever dream; whether that is for the better or worse, however, is where the reviewers vary. In all honesty, though, there's something refreshing about a non-mainstream end of year release that is decidedly not friendly to the Academy - and for some, that'll make Inherent Vice all the more worth seeing.

As for Warner Bros., which is distributing Anderson's film, the studio's heads are probably just glad they have a more traditional Oscar-contender in Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (with an intense trailer that's got people buzzing) arriving later this year too...


Inherent Vice opens in U.S. theaters on December 12th, 2014.

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