Inherent Vice Review

Title: Inherent Vice
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix,
Josh Brolin,
Owen Wilson
Genre: Crime/Drama
Runtime: 2 Hours 28 mins
Music: Jonny Greenwood
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Certificate: US: R
UK: 15
Release Date: US: January 09 2015
UK: January 30 2015
See If You Like: American Hustle,
The Wolf Of Wall Street,
Boogie Nights

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film ‘Inherent Vice’ has all but slipped under the academy’s spotlight this year, with only an adapted screenplay and costume design nod. However, in an Oscar year that has stirred up a lot of discussion regarding controversial & surprising omissions, it is easy to see why this one didn’t make the cut. Despite proving his ability to present a well crafted masterpiece with 2013’s The Master, Anderson has unfortunately loosened the reigns with his latest piece – and the result is a meandering, meaningless and painfully long experience, with no stand-out performances and a sad sense of missed opportunity.

Seductive Ex-Girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson, Night Moves) comes to hapless stoner Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, Her) for help in this noir-esque mystery adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel. Following intertwining leads while trying to juggle the chaotic regulars in his life, including girlfriend deputy DA Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon, Wild) and hot on his heels Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, True Grit), Sportello tries to track down the truth in a world where unfortunately everyone seems to have different priorities.

While there is a clear sense of nostalgia and an immersive atmospheric quality (due in large part to an enjoyably soundtrack and well put together 70s style costuming), the film suffers from a lack of meaning or purpose. Only brushing loosely over themes that might have been intended, the finished product very much mirrors that of it’s protagonist – a confused, meandering stoner.

Phoenix is suitably ‘kooky’ in the role and handles himself with ease, but compared to the direction he received in The Master, his performance feels much too loose and sloppy, and often his attempts to be quirky feel unnatural and over the top.



The impressive cast – also including the likes of Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris), Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams) & Eric Roberts (Runaway Train) – simply don’t have enough to work with. They are a jumble of disconnected and unsympathetic stereotypes, sown together by the unfolding plot in a nonsensical way. The only shining moments come from Brolin’s ‘Bigfoot’, as he at least manages to entertain… something hugely lacking in what some have bafflingly called comedy. Unfortunately, nothing much more is done with the female cast than making crude sexual references and dressing them up as hippie chick fantasies.

It is a film that cannot settle on a genre, or is simply trying to avoid one altogether, but in doing so fails on almost every level. Despite having obvious plot elements expected of a crime/mystery tale, the stakes are so low and the tension is never held long enough to grip the audience’s curiosity. One the other hand, the bizarre and sometimes spontaneous moments that were clearly included in an attempt at off-beat comedy often come out crass and out of place. Unlike films like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, which take the glamorisation of drugs and sex into such ridiculous proportions that the satire is clear, Anderson is unable to do so from his serious ‘artsy’ film making position – and the two flavours simply don’t mix here.


The plot does not lend itself to easy translation, at several points being lost completely in favour of something resembling reflection, and the dialogue is clunky and difficult to follow. This is not helped by an overuse of hushed tones and whispering scenes that make it a sort of monotone listening experience, frustrating for anyone hard of hearing.

After almost 2 and half hours of this, anyone who made it all the way to the end in one sitting deserves an award themselves. Not all films should be easy watching, and so far all of Anderson’s films are arguably an acquired taste, but Inherent Vice is a true chore. It is perhaps a small mercy that it has slipped fairly quietly under the mainstream radar and therefore not attracted too much negative attention for being an over rated mess.

Becky Gant.
Movie review ratings 5-10