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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Inherent Vice

Ever wanted to go back in time to the early 1970s and sample the drugs in the hippie scene of Los Angeles? Of course not, because drugs are bad! But if you did want to, watching this film might give you a pretty good idea of what it was like. Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray comes comedy/crime/thriller/mystery/drama/mindf*ck Inherent Vice, directed and adapted for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson from Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix reunite after the brilliant The Master, also starring the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Is Inherent Vice another modern classic like it, or is there a reason it was largely ignored in the awards season this year?


Joaquin Phoenix stars as Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, a private investigator and hippie pot-head in the early 1970s. Tasked with investigating the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend, he struggles to make sense of an increasingly complicated state of affairs in sunny Los Angeles. Here I would usually say something along the lines of “That’s all I’m prepared to say, as I don’t want to ruin anything” but in the case of Inherent Vice, it’s basically all I got from the plot anyway. As Doc gets more and more confused at the unfolding case he’s investigating, so will you. This is a film that you have to pay 110% attention to, and even then don’t be surprised if you’re left thinking “….what?”. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has even admitted that the narrative is incomprehensible. But you know what? This does not detract from the film at all. We share Doc’s often drug-fuelled confusion, and it works. I’ve not read the original book – although I would like to – so I don’t know how closely the film follows it. From what I’ve read online, it’s very faithful. As such, I’d imagine the potential ‘problem’ of an incoherent narrative lies with the novel and not the film.


Plot aside, Inherent Vice is a film of immense style. Having been shot on film, the visuals are absolutely stunning – some cinemas even screened the film in 70mm, as with aforementioned previous Anderson/Phoenix collaboration The Master. The grainy look of Inherent Vice really lends itself to the era-authenticity of the film, which is helped even more by the soundtrack, costume design (I want to raid the film’s costume department so bad) and sets. I wasn’t around in the early 1970s, but having watched this film, I feel like I’ve been back in time. The production values across the board here are among the best I’ve seen in recent years, and the cinematography is phenomenal – every single frame is a little work of art. The cast are terrific too, with everyone delivering damn fine performances. But the film belongs to Joaquin Phoenix, who should have been nominated for an Oscar here. Nailing the laid-back hippie attitude with an almost constant hint of drug inebriation, Phoenix delivers his finest performance to date – even better than he was in the incredible Her. Josh Brolin is brilliant too, as hippie-hating Detective ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen.

Watching Inherent Vice, I was reminded of The Big Lebowski. A stoner hippie getting out of his depth in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles? You can see where one could draw a comparison. But it’s a lovely comparison to make, because – I don’t need to tell you this, I’m sure – The Big Lebowski is one of the finest comedy films ever made. To utter another film in the same breath is the highest of honours. I feel like Inherent Vice has a long life ahead of it as a cult film like Lebowski, and that someday people may enjoy them together as a double-bill. The Doc abides, man.



Inherent Vice has been nicknamed Inherent Twice due to it requiring two viewings to even begin to comprehend the plot. I know I’ll certainly be revisiting it soon. But even on one viewing, the film is an exceptionally engrossing and entertaining 150 minutes. Groovy, psychedelic and far out, Inherent Vice earns my highest recommendation.

Inherent Vice cracks the case, and smokes up a big 5/5.

★★★★★

Sam Love


Inherent Vice at CeX


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