This is definitely a film that will mostly appeal to a certain type of person, maybe one who actually experienced the Seventies, or maybe this is a film that gets better with repeated viewings. “Inherent Vice” definitely has all the makings of a cult movie, one that certain people despise on its first release but over time, becomes a classic.
On the positive side, there are some great performances, particularly from Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin; Phoenix has perfect comic timing and he confidently carries the film throughout. Also standing out by quite a long way is Martin Short, who makes a definite impact in a short space of time and ensures that his performance is remembered, maybe above all others.
The film shares striking similarities with the work of Raymond Chandler, most obviously “The Long Goodbye” (rehab centre, British wife, shifty doctors) and also with the Coens’ “The Big Lebowski”. Fans of these works will appreciate the similarities, though they may not necessarily enjoy this particular film.
There are indeed some comical moments and it is clear that there is a certain joviality to be found in this film. The music is also excellent; I enjoyed listening and it definitely adds to the overall tone. Finally, this film has plenty of style; it is visually appealing and certain praise should go the cinematography and costume/hair/make up design.
However, the film is indeed flawed. “Inherent Vice” has seen its fair share of “walk-outs” and unfortunately, while watching, I too felt a strong desire to do the same.
The film has a good start, but many of the later scenes are laborious, gruelling and over-long; perhaps strangely enough, the scene in which Katherine Waterston takes her clothes off is the definite low point, with its droning, pointless dialogue! I personally lost a great deal of interest during many of the later scenes, especially the whole Owen Wilson/Vigilant California “strand”, given their tendency to waffle on about a whole manner of uninteresting things. It does not help that the overall story is dull and uninspired.
The film tries to blend gritty film noir, Coen Brother-esque slapstick and “Fear and Loathing” gonzo style and sadly, it feels uncomfortably mismatched and disjointed, though perhaps that was the intention. In typical film noir style, a number of different characters come to the protagonist, ask for help and this of course leads to the realisation that they are all connected. But while most film noirs have only a few “strands”, “Inherent Vice” has a ridiculous amount and after the umpteenth person has approached Joaquin Phoenix, we are left no longer caring about the story or about the characters involved. The film’s insistence on being both wacky and gritty is a definite misfire.
It has been said that Anderson needed to rein a lot of this film in and this is definitely a valid point; the film could have been improved with the rejection of certain scenes and with a tighter, more restrained story.
In conclusion, “Inherent Vice” is engaging and funny at certain points, but too many scenes are gruellingly slow and pointless. A certain amount of wackiness and stoner humour can only carry it so far and after that, it is hard to care about anything the film has to say.
**As a side note, I saw this film for a second time on DVD, only to find that my reaction was exactly the same. This time, I actually did walk out at one point!**