Film Review: Inherent Vice

[Melissa Nadarajan | Contributing Writer]

Take a dollop of the ludicrous humour of Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a smattering of stylized high school neo-noir Brick and add a generous splash of the heady, stoner vibe of the legendary The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice will emerge out of the honeyed goop.

Based on the 2007 novel by author Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice lures you into its drug fuelled fever dream, commandeering your sense of normalcy and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.

A hirsute Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line), returns after the success of the Oscar nominated Her, to play lovable stoner Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private detective working in 1970s Los Angeles. Doc and his Wolverine-esque mutton chops are hired to prevent his ex-girlfriend’s lover from being abducted and falsely committed to a mental health institution by a scheming wife.

Inherent Vice Still

The film isn’t without its flaws. Inherent Vice starts off slooowly. It drags out its tale, drip-feeding its audience, leaving many impatient and disgruntled and earning it mixed reviews. Director Paul Thomas Anderson (There will be Blood, Magnolia) however, has never been one to coddle his viewers. The film will not mete out explanations or exposition for each nuanced detail. Instead, the audience is expected to comprehend and keep up with what little information is doled out, and those who cannot will be left behind.

But good things come to those who wait and those who choose to stick with Inherent Vice’s running time, just shy of three hours, will reap rich rewards. The pace picks up around the halfway mark with a heady, surreal and paranoia-driven escapade from a dentist’s office that undoubtedly left me feeling like I was joining the characters on their illicit trip.

Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad, Men in Black 3) is fantastic as Lt. Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, a harsh, flat-topped, “dirty hippy” hating antagonist to Doc’s scruffy, easy-going, narcotics lover. Bigfoot’s personal mission to be a thorn in Doc’s side creates some of the best and awkwardly hilarious moments in the film.

Every noir needs a narrator and Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) is Inherent Vice’s female voiceover guide, providing New Age, astrological explanations for each of the unfolding events, settling the film even deeper into its 1970s hippy tone.

Inherent Vice features beautiful, tight cinematography, as always from Anderson. Especially noteworthy are the stunning shots of stylish retro interiors matched in precision and attention to detail by exquisite period costuming. The soundtrack ranges from old Western style, to soft Country and 1970s rock, all tethered together by Jonny Greenwood’s score. The score creeps gently around the edges of scenes, often barely there, but subtle enough to support the film in a way only a carefully selected and positioned soundtrack can.

If you’re after a robust film that’s going to make you feel like you’re under the influence without actually taking anything illegal, or if you like films that doesn’t give a flying fig whether you understand them or not, then Inherent Vice is for you. If need be, give it a second viewing, because it’s definitely worth it.

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