Inherent Vice… I am struggling to begin this review due to the absurdity of the subject matter. Let’s start with the plot… (maybe I should use inverted comma’s there). Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead role of ‘Doc’ Sportello, a Private Investigator who gets a mysterious visit from his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston), just before she and her millionaire lover, Wolfmann, disappear. During his drug fuelled investigation process, Doc stumbles upon some pretty hairy characters and unwittingly becomes caught up in all sorts of corruption, revenge and a hell of a lot of drug use. But hey, it’s the 70’s man and Doc is a class A bohemian hippie.
There are quite a lot of mixed reviews about Inherent Vice which I can understand. The plot may seem straight forward but when you add the sub stories of folks such as Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) the undercover hippie who wants out, ‘Bigfoot’ (Josh Brolin) the dangerous lone Detective looking for any excuse to violate some civil rights and Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) the nonplussed perverted ‘mob boss’, then the plot becomes a little crowded and it can be quite hard to follow in places. HOWEVER, I actually really like this about Inherent Vice. With the help of Doc’s friend Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) providing some narration when things really don’t make sense, the audience watches events unfold through Doc’s mind… his drug riddled, paranoid, hallucinating rainbow kaleidoscope of a brain.
My point being, no wonder the film doesn’t make sense! The more drugs Doc consumes the more random things seem to happen, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. I found myself afterwards questioning which bits were paranoid delusions, and what really happened through the eyes of a sane, sober person? I really enjoyed the random scenes and little quips that are easily missed but made me laugh out loud, most of the time in disbelief that something so weird just occurred, (i.e. the policeman picking his nose, or Bigfoot’s last scene… what the eff?! Ha!).
Big love for Phoenix in this role, he really nails the part so convincingly and not a character I have seen him play before. I really felt for his lungs if he isn’t really a smoker! He has a general nonchalance and confidence about him, mixed with the innocence and kind hearted nature that age old stoner stereotypes seem to posses. I was quite attached to Doc and really felt like we should have his corner throughout. This feeling is strengthened by Brolin’s ‘Bigfoot’, he brings a menacing gravitas to his role of Detective Bjornsen which makes you route for Doc, but is Bigfoot the villain of this story? I am not sure, despite him being an absolute arsehole, I actually really liked him! (And so my title quote is in Bigfoot’s honour).
There are a lot of characters in Inherent Vice which are a little hard to keep track of. Reece Witherspoon pops up in a small part and although it could be argued she is underused, her character slides in and out of the plot much like she does in and out of Doc’s mind. It fits, and why not cast a big name for a smaller character. Owen Wilson’s drawling accent and floppy blond hair lend themselves well to the free spirited role he plays but nothing out of the ordinary here. Maya Rudolf (of Bridesmaids fame I guess) also plays a small part as Doc’s receptionist. Nice to see her in such a different kind of film. Benicio Del Toro plays Doc’s lawyer of sorts and he fits perfectly in this films atmosphere, Del Toro and Pheonix make a good duo and their relationship could have been explored a little more perhaps. Plus Eric Roberts who almost goes unnoticed as Wolfmann!
The lesser known names also fair well in Inherent Vice in my opinion. Shasta Fay played by the absolutely stunning Katherine Waterston plays a perfect girl next door character. Joanna Newsom (playing Sortilège) has an ideal little voice that sets the tone from the beginning of the film, she has a really great supporting role which could have been explored. Jena Malone who I recognised from Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) also plays a fun character who’s exchange with Doc is one of the highlights of the film for me. My favourite though has to be Hong Chau playing Jade, a prostitute come friend of Doc’s who pops up in the oddest of places and just goes along for the ride and coming out with some of the funniest one liners.
Unfortunately, Inherent Vice does have some pitfalls and that is mainly its length. I felt it could have easily cut out what seemed like 40 minutes worth of Shasta Fay’s dreamy stoner monologues, but really that is the only thing I can criticise… The production oozes 70’s nostalgia, coupled with a hazy filter and the dulcet tones of Sortilège’s narration, Paul Thomas Anderson has created a film worthy of comparison to the likes of The Big Lebowski (1998) or Boogie Nights (1997). I would recommend a DVD viewing so that you can talk to someone during the boring parts, and help each other understand what the hell is unfolding in front of you! Haha! As you can tell by my unusually long review, I very much enjoyed Inherent Vice!