Inherent Vice (2014) – Film Review

Inherent Vice Movie PosterInherent Vice

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Benicio Del Toro

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon

IMDB Rating: 6.8

The very beautiful Inherent Vice stars Joaquin Phoenix as a pot-head detective in the middle of a world of intriguing characters. A very complicated story, can this psychedelic crime drama translate from book to film?

Set in 1970’s California, Inherent Vice follows Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Phoenix), a drug-fuelled private detective. One day he is approached by ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay (Waterston) who believes her boyfriend, married land developer Micky Wolfmann is the target of a kidnap attempt by his current wife and her lover. Along the way he investigates linked cases involving murder, disappearance and drug cartel the Golden Fang, mostly with the help of LAPD detective ‘Bigfoot’ (Brolin).

While I’m sure the story is good, it was far too complicated. With so many characters playing sizeable parts in the plot, it was very easy to get lost. I’ve seen a lot of examples recently of books that have been turned into movies that have ended up too complicated. When Inherent Vice is in book form you can read it in more detail, almost study the lines for clues and have a deeper understanding of the characters and the story. However, in film form, everything comes and goes in a flash, the dialogue blurred by beautiful visuals and intriguing characters. In the end, I honestly couldn’t tell you what was happening, or who was good and who was bad, or whether Doc actually succeeded. I’ve left at the end one of the many things I was wondering at the end of the film, I would only suggest reading it if you’ve seen the film but it does outline one of many problems I, and I’m sure others, had.

The acting in this film is pretty good, overall. Joaquin Phoenix is very solid as Larry Sportello, delivering a believable and compelling performance that delivers something different compared to his other films. However, even though everyone else is pretty solid, there’s no one who really stands out and makes you think ‘yes, I want to see them again’.

This is a very beautiful film, cleverly directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film has a feel of a 70’s movie – everything from the lighting to the camera angles and the direction puts you in the 70’s in a way I’ve never seen before. I honestly cannot think of another film which captures the essence of its era better than Inherent Vice has done in this film. There is a particular scene in this film, a flashback where Doc and his girlfriend are running around in the rain after playing with the Ouija board, that is so beautifully done by Anderson that it is probably one the best bits of film I’ve seen in a long time – albeit it’s only 10/15 seconds long!

Overall, this is a film that has made me want to see the book. The story sounds good, but is very rushed in movie form and way too easy to get lost. What this film does have going for it though is the visuals. But a film over two hours long needs more than visuals to make it a hit.

Me at the end of the film:
‘That girl at the end he has sex with, was that his ex-girlfriend that was meant to have ran off? Does she have a sister, because I swear there’s a girl that looks just like her in the Oujia flashback? And who’s the third girl in that flashback? Is that the girl at the beginning who seemed to never show up again, or is she some weird friend of the two sisters? Or is the girl at the beginning the girl he was looking for, and they hooked up at the end? I’m confused…’

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