Review: Inherent Vice

This one was weird. Not bad-weird or good-weird particularly, just a little bit strange. You should definitely read the book it’s based on, which is both fantastic and slightly clearer. Inherent Vice occupies a strange, strange world…

Overview: In a California beach community, private detective “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) tends to work his cases through a smoky haze of marijuana. One day, Shasta, a former lover, arrives out of the blue to plead for Doc’s help; it seems that Shasta’s current beau, rich real-estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann, has a wife who may be plotting to commit him to a mental hospital. When Mickey and Shasta both disappear, Doc navigates a psychedelic world of surfers, stoners and cops to solve the case.

The Good: This film feels like a throw-back, referencing the great characters of the Seventies and the idea that almost anything goes. The acting from both Pheonix and Brolin is fantastic, although the side characters are somewhat weaker. Del Toro just looks like he belongs. The atmosphere and surroundings capture the setting and time period pretty well, and the script is obviously pretty good. Any cuts or edits don’t appear to have affected the plot particularly, and the camera work is pretty skilful. But that’s about it. Certainly go and see it, quite possibly twice (it’d help).

The Bad: It’s just so bizarre. Enough that it’s actually quite hard to work out what’s going on. Everything is seemingly interconnected at some level or another, but there are so many random appearances and disappearances that (mixed with the huge level of drug use) its hard to tell what might be really going on, or just a hallucination. The comedy is there, with certain obvious jokes or references, but there doesn’t seem to be anything below the surface. Perhaps it’s a lot funnier if you’ve been smoking what the cast constantly are. It’s not that I have very little to say about this film, just that it requires a degree of processing above the norm.

This film isn’t bad, necessarily. It is confusing, and probably requires a couple of viewings or some intimate knowledge of the book it’s based on. Frankly, it feels like it should have been given to the Coen Brothers. Certainly that’s the style being aped, although to a lesser degree of success. This has all the style of an off-beat black comedy, with none of the awareness or skill. Still, go and watch it, and let us know what you think in the comments, or via twitter @abortretryflail. On Sunday, Selma!


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