'Inherent Vice' misses the yearning and despair inside noirish shenanigans

'Vice' director Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most gifted directors of his generation, but the film seems to have been concocted in a stoned haze of its very own.

Wilson Webb/Warner Bros.
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and Hope Harlingen (Reese Witherspoon) chat in a scene from the movie 'Inherent Vice.'

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most highly gifted directors of his generation and an heir, in terms of his shaggy, free-ranging style and sensibility, to Robert Altman. His new movie, “Inherent Vice,” adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel, is a kind of companion piece to Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” and it’s the sort of failure that only a director of his talents could make – a movie about a stoner private eye (Joaquin Phoenix) in Los Angeles circa 1970 that seems to have been concocted in a stoned haze of its very own.

The Philip Marlowe-ish complications pile up along with the likes of Josh Brolin (very good as a bonkers, buzz-cut cop), Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short and, as a slinky noir vamp, relative newcomer Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam). What the film misses, which “The Long Goodbye” mainlined, is the yearning and despair inside all these noirish shenanigans. Grade: B (Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language, and some violence.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.