Inherent Vice Review

Inherent Vice

There’s a part in Inherent Vice where the narrator tells us what this saying actually means.

But I’ll be damned if I can remember, which kind of sums up Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film rather nicely.

Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is a stoner with about 99 problems, and his former bitch is most definitely one.

Shasta Hepworth, formerly known as Doc’s girlfriend, unexpectedly arrives at his hippy beach shack in the midnight hour to ask him for help.

But seeing as Doc’s a private investigator, and hasn’t heard anything from Shasta since she broke up with him, he’d already guessed that much.

Naturally, the kind of help Shasta needs involves her new fancy man, Michael Z Wolfmann, namely protecting him from his wife and her lover so they can get their hands on his vast fortune.

Now a normal person would run a mile upon hearing such nonsense from their ex, but unfortunately for Doc he still carries a torch for his former flame.

So he takes the case, and we follow in his footsteps as Doc begins to unravel the mystery behind the as expected disappearance of Wolfmann.

Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, Inherent Vice is a two and a half hour trip through the seedy underbelly of fictional 1970’s Los Angeles.

Described as a stoner noir in a similar cinematic vein to that of the Coen brothers’ cult smash The Big Lebowski, I had big expectations of Anderson’s new film.

And as I’ve been likened to the dude on more than one occasion, it’s fair to say I had a vested interest in finding out whether Inherent Vice lived up to the hype.

Or should that be dressing-gowned interest?

Unfortunately, as fun as it is in parts, Anderson’s latest flick doesn’t quite hit the spot.

Veering between slapstick comedy and detective thriller, Inherent Vice suffers from a slight identity crisis; and instead of seamlessly blending these two genres, it feels a little disconnected, as though these two elements have been almost carelessly spot-welded together.

Joaquin Phoenix is his usual brilliant self as Doc, and a walking roll call featuring some of hollywood’s biggest names take it in turns to share screen time with Anderson’s acting muse of choice, most notably Josh Brolin as a raging police detective yang to Phoenix’s stoner yin.

And despite a lot of great scenes, including playing a Damo Suzuki Can era track in its entirety during and after the opening credits, Inherent Vice doesn’t really add up to more than the sum of these parts.

It’s too long and lacks focus, which rather unsurprisingly had the same effect on me.

Not that it seemed to matter, as you can dip in and out without much trouble, and I also imagine this effect to be deliberate, as a reflection of Doc’s drug addled state of mind.

It’s an interesting idea, but it just doesn’t work for me.

Of course, a lot of film critics who also double up as Anderson fan-boys will tell you that it does; but if you took away his name and the all-star cast from this, I’d wager they’d be singing a different tune.

As you may have guessed I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Inherent Vice, which is both its most intriguing feature and its Achilles heel.

Kind of like Shasta is for Doc.

Jonathan Campbell

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January 2015
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