Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterson, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Reese Witherspoon
Run-Time: A third of your natural life
Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood, Boogie Nights, The Master) directs this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s famously unfilmable novel.
It is 1970 and you can truly feel it as Inherent Vice positively oozes period feel. The costumes, (Inherent Vice is deservedly Oscar nominated for costume design) the soundtrack and the cinematography combine to evoke a sunkissed feel of lost L.A making you nostalgic for a time and a place you may never have seen.
Into this world lives stoner PI Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Phoenix), who is called into action by his frustratingly ethereal, vapid ex-girlfriend Shasta (Waterson) to investigate a plot to commit a local land and property tycoon into a madhouse. What follows is an intentionally rambling, convoluted story involving missing persons, drugged up dentists, secret informers, evil empires, blacklisted film stars, neo-nazis and back-from-the-dead session musicians (Owen Wilson playing Owen Wilson).
Really, Inherent Vice doesn’t really have a plot at all (the lack of tangible, coherent plot IS the plot) and this wouldn’t be so bad if it toned back elsewhere. But characters embark upon telling endless stories that go nowhere and mean next to nothing, like Grandpa Simpson without the capacity for entertainment. At one point Josh Brolin – expertly cast as no nonsense, hippy-hating cop Christian Bjornsen – asks if he has to listen to any more rambling hippie monologues. It’d be a funny in-joke were it not for the fact that the audience is feeling exactly the same way and there’s still well over an hour to go. Occasionally Inherent Vice draws you in to its mad, almost insane world, but the overall experience is like being the one person who doesn’t get a joke at a party; but only because everyone else in the room is stoned or drunk. Or both. And have swallowed a philosophy textbook beforehand. Or perhaps it’s the reverse; being drunk and trying to understand why the sober people are moving in a different time stream to you and are all looking at you strangely.
“Walked out of Inherent Vice. Understood so little of plot or dialogue, I worried I’d had a stroke,” complains one tweeter.
There are several laugh-out loud moments, but you’ve seen eighty percent of them in the trailer; and the ideas of Doc being stoned and Bjornsen being downtrodden at home by his wife and at work by his colleagues are funny at first but are mined for all the comedic potential they have.
The Verdict: An almost two and a half hour film that feels treble the run-time; Inherent Vice is a brilliantly cast, expertly produced, occasionally hilarious and sometimes enchanting meandering, frustrating, largely incomprehensible mess. As explained in the film, Inherent Vice in insurance terms is when an insurance company won’t insure against something they see as inevitable, such as chocolate melting or water evaporating. The inherent vice here is you’ll find this unfathomably dull and bafflingly pointless. Sounds like a new cult classic, doesn’t it?