May Movie Club: Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice | 9Lives
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Inherent Vice, which is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, is set in 1970 California and focuses heavily on drug culture, as well as several different subcultures. This 2014 film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson.

Inherent Vice is the May edition of the 9Lives Movie Club. This film didn’t really have a widespread theatrical release in South Africa, mainly just in art house cinemas, and therefore I bought this film on DVD as soon as it was released. Director and screenwriter, Paul Thomas Anderson, received an Academy Award nomination for the film’s adapted screenplay.

If you haven’t heard about our movie club yet, you can have a look here.

Setting The Scene

IMDB gives the official film synopsis as; “During the psychedelic 60s and 70s Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is surprised by his former girlfriend and her plot for her billionaire boyfriend, his wife, and her boyfriend. A plan for kidnapping gets shaken up by the oddball characters entangled in this groovy kidnapping romp based upon the novel by Thomas Pynchon.”

Critics Choice Award

If you are a fan of The Big Lebowski – and let’s be honest, who isn’t – then you will undoubtedly like this similar style of discursive storytelling. As Indiewire so aptly explains, these private investigator films’ plots barely ever add up and at the end of the day, it actually doesn’t matter.

The film plays hard and fast with plot twists and red herrings. In contrast with the traditional detective novel or narrative where the climax lies in the denouement of the mystery, the thrill of this film lies in the journey, and the journey is grungy and funny, treading across classes and races and other popular sixties issues. The Guardian probably describes it best; “The flotsam of Inherent Vice have all lost their bearings, come unstuck. They keep drifting towards the ocean as if hoping the tide will sweep them up.”
This is also not the first time that director, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Joaquin Phoenix collaborate. In contrast to the almost pointless, meaningless run-around of this film, their previous film, The Master, highlighted the search for meaning in prosperous 1950s America. This film was nominated for three Academy Awards and opened to rave reviews in 2012.

As with most films, the reviews were not all favourable. Several critics called out the abundance of external vices with very little focus on the inherent vices rendering the characters unbelievable. In fact, The Wrap describes it as; “…a lengthy burlesque on paranoia, on conspiracies both real and imagined, so dazed in its color schemes that Anderson clearly wants you to get stoned watching it. But the sense of being blissfully out-of-it, which can have its pleasures, soon drifts into another aspect of drug use: detachment.

Viewer’s Choice Award

To be honest, this is not an easy film to watch. Although I absolutely loved the nod to hippie-culture of the sixties and the several different subcultures that evolved from it, the pointlessness of the plot kind of gets to you and keeping up with the characters can be quite tricky.

What makes the film successful is the fact that it is so irresistible and even though it sidetracks with exaggerated characterisations and crater-like plot holes, it does effectively illustrate, in more than one way, the haze of the subversive counterculture that it tries to portray.

As with The Big Lebowski, you both love and hate Doc’s character. Taking this film against Phoenix’ Joker, it does give you a holistic view of the scope of Joaquin Phoenix as an actor. Thinking back on his Johnny Cash film and the two aforementioned films, it really shows why he is considered to be one of the greats.

You can watch the film today on Google Play or Apple TV+.


Free State-girl, living in Stellenbosch. Love to explore small towns, read in Afrikaans and everything pop-culture. My favourite yoga move is 'The Pigeon' and one day I'd like to own my own vintage cinema.

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