Beginning Thomas Pynchon’s novel, I was hoping Inherent Vice would start to make a bit more sense after seeing the film. Not being familiar with Pynchon, that proved hopelessly naive. Paul Thomas Anderson’s dense, kaleidoscopic, cinematic vision has always proven his genius. This is a guy who made Boogie Nights in his mid 20s and has since never ceased to challenge himself, none more so than with Inherent Vice which may well be the first time his genius hasn’t quite shone through.
It’s plot heavy narrative passes our 70s stoner protagonist Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) into ever more incongruous situations. He’s a main character who agrees to do anything, a PI who receives a visit from Shasta (Katherine Waterston), a former girlfriend, asking him to foil a plot which puts a man she is having an affair with in jeopardy. It’s a strange universe constantly putting you off guard, fascinating from an experimental narrative perspective but difficult to truly enjoy and feel immersed within. Paul Thomas Anderson takes his audience on a drug fuelled trip into this seedy, logic defying underworld of peculiarity, disorientating with its pacing, information arriving slow and then pummelled rapidly.
Inherent Vice takes mental preparation on behalf of the viewer. There is a necessity to surrender traditional notions of plot, structure and cinematic conventions to get on board this ride, recreating situations perhaps most relatable to those who have lived that drug fuelled life, whilst those on the outside remain befuddled by the difficult to penetrate, comically surreal narrative. What’s most agonising about Inherent Vice is that it doesn’t hit that resonating truth PTA always achieves, nor is it as visually striking as his work usually is, instead wrestling with its complex dialogue. It’s an interesting enigma, a puzzle left intentionally without all its pieces. I’ve heard it requires a second viewing and I think it probably deserves it.
Review by David Rank
Inherent Vice is out now in the UK. Running time 149 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).