I can’t really recall many Joaquín Phoenix films I’ve seen in the past, but he seemed like a cool guy, even before I watched ‘Inherent Vice’. Actually, the film as a whole seemed pretty cool too, not that I knew too much about it beforehand. That said, I seem to remember the film not getting a great reception upon release, and that’s why it’s taken me so long to actually watch it. Even then, it was a rather random impulse that I happened to stumble across it.
I can only tell you a rather broad and basic overview of the plot behind ‘Inherent Vice’, and that’s not me being a kindhearted critic and sparing a spoiler, I literally didn’t grasp the whole thing. The very cool, very quirky private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) lands himself in the middle of a rather troublesome case when his ex-lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), comes to him with details of a criminal plot concocted by her new lover and his wife. On the trail of various different individuals and organisations, Doc has the LAPD detective affectionately known as “Bigfoot” (Josh Brolin) busting his ass, not to mention plenty of drug addicts, prostitutes and murderers making things very difficult indeed.
The main thing I can take from this viewing is that Larry “Doc” Sportello is definitely one of, if not the, coolest film characters of 2015. You know what, fuck it, he’s one of the coolest ever. With his whiteboy afro, frankly ridiculous mutton chops, an oddly endearing dress sense and a tendency to walk around without shoes, Doc is a real filthy hippy to say the least, but somehow it all works as an ensemble. Especially when you combine this aesthetic with Joaquín Phoenix delivering a class A performance full of wit, eccentricity and charm. In a cast full of side-stories, and in turn, side characters, what attention I had left was predominantly paid to Josh Brolin and his portrayal of the prick detective; a real bad-cop with a good-cop deficiency. After seeing Brolin in a string of films this year – namely ‘No Country For Old Men’ and ‘Sicario’ – and now this showing, I am a great admirer of his acting talents and can’t wait to check out more of his work.
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty stuff; is ‘Inherent Vice’ actually any good? The acting is first rate, as I mentioned. The cinematography is impressive too; lots of interesting shots and nice lighting. Hell, even the musical accompaniment was excellent. But it was that pesky narrative which caused the most problems for me. Truth be told, my brain wasn’t exactly working at full capacity; I laid in bed watching this expecting a nice, chilled experience, unprepared for the mental challenge ‘Inherent Vice’ posed. With a twisted, madcap plot – similar in that manner to ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, but with significantly less substance – I very quickly felt quite lost and gave up on following the story, instead choosing to just passively enjoy the visual and auditory pleasures of the film. Not exactly a terrible way to watch a film, but losing the plot, so to speak, certainly isn’t the optimum viewing experience for any film.
Ultimately, ‘Inherent Vice’ was fun to watch if nothing else, with cool characters brought to life by very good performances. There’s some interesting thematic elements in there somewhere too, I think; if you find them, let me know. Regardless, you can make a film as “cool” as can be and incorporate all the trendy camerawork and music you want, but any narrative frailties will see you come unstuck. Maybe it’s just me and my diminished attention span on that particular evening, and I do recommend watching this for yourself anyway simply because it IS fun and it IS cool. Just make sure you’re either paying close attention or allow yourself to just be lost in it all.
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson