Inherent Vice – Go see Doc, Bambi, and the Gang Get High

Inherent Vice is currently in theaters.

Inherent Vice


Inherent ViceĀ (2014) – Rated R

In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.”

Is that a swastika on that man’s face?” – “No, it isn’t. That’s an ancient Hindu symbol meaning “all is well”. It brings good fortune, luck and well-being.”

One Line Review: Ridiculously self-indulgent

Right after sitting through the execrable Taken 3, I went to see Inherent Vice. In theory, I was going from an incompetent filmmaker to an incredible one. In practice, less so. Inherent Vice appears to be a critical darling but, to me, it embodies much of what can go wrong with auteur cinema, including extreme close-ups and drug-fueled discussions that lead nowhere.

Joaquin Phoenix occasionally mumbles his dialogue. No, not in this movie – just in general. In this movie, Anderson appears to have instructed him to just go ahead and mumble ALL of his dialogue. Anderson then overlays a soundtrack that is louder in parts than the dialogue. A fascinating directorial choice but not an enjoyable one.

I’m not sure whether it is to counteract Phoenix’ mumbling or if it is directly from the novel (which I have not read), but Inherent Vice is narrated by Sortilege (Joanna Newsom) and not Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), our protagonist. I do blame Anderson and not Phoenix as Phoenix isn’t the only one mumbling dialogue, just the worst example. This may have been taken to provide a more naturalistic flow to conversation but, again, that doesn’t make it enjoyable.

I have a hard time pinning down the tone. Many of the events and much of the dialogue appears to have a satirical edge but Anderson is so serious and self-important in his direction that almost none of it comes off as funny. Yet it is extremely difficult to take seriously a script where the characters names are Doc, Petunia, the Wolfman, Shasta, Bigfoot, Dr. Buddy Tubeside, Jade, Bambi, Sauncho Smilax Esquire, Amethyst, Agent Flatweed, Agent Borderline, and on and on and on.

Speaking of events, I defy anyone to watch this movie once and actually explain the sequence of events. No wait I don’t mean defy, I mean implore. Yes, it probably would have helped if I had read the novel but Anderson takes a leisurely two and a half hours to tell this impenetrable story. There were only nine of us in the theater and two walked out at about the halfway point.

Drugs feature in nearly every scene of the movie so obviously some of the events could be construed as hallucinations. Doc is either smoking or rolling a joint every time we see him and also indulges in nitrous, acid, tobacco, booze, and cocaine among other substances but, and this is stressed, he doesn’t do HEROIN.

There are many wonderful directorial touches. There is occasional playful interaction between our narrator and the events occurring. Bigfoot often seems like a hallucination of Doc’s, particularly in his timing, and is well-played by Josh Brolin. Costume and set design are absolutely wonderful. Dialogue between many of the characters rings true and, in general, the movie is well-acted. It is just ridiculously self-indulgent.

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