Cert: 15 / 149 mins / Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson / Trailer
You know those films where you catch yourself mid-movie, not bored at all, but suddenly pulled back into your seat with the question "…what the bloody hell is going on again?" tugging at your brain? That. I have to confess to being a complete n00b to Paul Thomas Anderson*1, so that may go some way to explaining the situation, but I also got the impression I'd have fared a little better if I'd been familiar with Thomas Pynchon's novel which the film is based on. Though I also imagine that the book places the same barriers in front of its audience. It's that kind of story.
Set in 1970 beachside-California, Inherent Vice brings us private investigator Larry 'Doc' Sportello as his ex-girlfriend Sortilège arrives at his home unannounced in the middle of the night, and proffers the case of her recently-disappeared now-boyfriend, married property tycoon Mickey Wolfmann. What follows is a tangled web of corruption, narcotics and flares as Sportello finds himself drawn further into the case with every smoke-shrouded discovery.
The good news? Joaquin Phoenix may well be an actual genius. I've never been a one for stoner-characters, but his shambolic, bleary-eyed Wolverine is charming and repellent in equal measure. Anderson directs with a surgical precision masquerading as casual naturalism*2. Every wince, groan and sigh of the characters is calculated to create the illusion of exhausted sloppiness. In terms of its tone, Inherent Vice plays like Jackie Brown with a crushing hangover, and this may very well be one of my favourite films. But I'm going to have to watch it a dew more times (in various states of sobriety) to be certain.
Unfortunately, the combination of a) on-set dialogue recording (ie no distinguishable ADR top-ups) resulting in prominent background noise, b) characters who mumble their speech and c) the deafening volume of Cineworld Chelsea's Screen 4 meant that there were entire conversations which I couldn't make out. The makers of the film aren't responsible for Screen 4 of course, but the combination of the first two seems like a bizarre choice. Even with Joanna Newsom's intermittent narration, the plot (in its cinematic form) is basically meandering gibberish. Stylish, fun gibberish, but gibberish nonetheless. Luckily, the overall ambience and the film's performances are interesting enough for the narrative to unwind at its own relaxed, haphazard pace, but I can certainly imagine a lot of viewers having a problem with this.
For its considerable run-time, Inherent Vice seems in no hurry to drive itself forward, and to be fair I was quite happy to just enjoy the ride. This is a 100 minute film shown over two and a half hours, like a sprawling dream that doesn't quite know where it wants to go, as long as it ends up roughly near home again.
Considering all the gripes I had with the film, I'm amazed I enjoyed it as much as I did. This is why I suspect it's a future-favourite.
Well, at two and a half hours, it's certainly value for money…
A buyer, as it'll get better with re-watching.
It's certainly up-there in Phoenix's case, yes.
I imagine it does, but I can't be sure at this point.
Inherent Vice features Benicio Del Toro, who made an appearance as The Collector at the back end of Thor: The Dark World; a film which starred Padmé Amidala herself, Natalie Portman.
*1 And I write a film-blog, I know.
*2 Wow, that sounds pretentious. Even for me.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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