Shot by Robert Elswit, who collaborated with Anderson on Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love among others, creates a beautiful and elaborate aesthetic that matches the flow of Pynchon's prose.
The plot is entirely convoluted and complex, but the story is pretty simple. Doc's ex girlfriend, Shasta Fey, is mixed up with some bad people. Doc, a private eye, tries to crack the case. All under the constant supervision of the straight-laced hippie hater Lt. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen breathing down his neck. All while Doc is really, really high. Which is a lot of fun.
Vice could be a straight laced drama if it weren't for the lyrical prose of Pynchon. The difference between comedy and drama is surprise, which Anderson works with well. Whether it's Doc's reaction to the stillborn baby of heroin addicts or it's Owen Wilson coming out of the fog or the fact that Benicio Del Toro plays Doc's lawyer who is an expert in maritime law.
Paul Thomas Anderson leads us to the resolution of the case. But like the novel, the film is more about the journey than the destination. The case falls by the wayside as the story shows more of Doc's struggle with finding love. Shasta Fay is a catalyst for the mystery but also for Doc's regret. Anderson does a masterful job of portraying all this complex human emotion while surprising the audience.
Surprising and beautiful enough for this to be the best stoner crime comedy-drama of 2014.