Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Joana Newsom, Jordan Christian Hearn, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon.
Running Time: 148 minutes
Synopsis: Feckless PI, Doc Sportello (Phoenix), is asked to investigate a supposed plot to commit land tycoon, Michael Z. Wolfmann (Roberts), to a loony bin.
Paul Thomas Anderson is quite simply one of the greatest directors of his generation, maybe even THE greatest. But with any great director, there are usually stumbling blocks along the way. Spielberg, Scorsese, and more recently Nolan, have all given us films that weren’t necessarily up to the ridiculous standards they set for themselves. Unfortunately, with INHERENT VICE, Anderson doesn’t so much stumble, as he does plummet head first into the ground, crashing through all the good work he’s done over the last two decades plus.
Granted, a lot of INHERENT VICE’s failure is due to certain personal tastes. It starts with narration, which has begun to grow in Hollywood features as an excuse to not bother telling the story visually. This means a lot of the scenes feel like you’re listening to an audio book. We get descriptions of inner turmoil that each character faces, or explanations of performances, “He looked at her as if trying to decipher…” Blah! Blah! Blah! It undermines the film itself and serves only to pay homage and stay true to the novel on which it is based.
Such adaptation also means that Pynchon’s irritating dialogue is brought forward too. Every character talks as if they want to do nothing but confuse the listener. If one character wished to be portrayed as pretentious then that’s fine, but when every character speaks exactly the same, then it’s clear we are getting more of the writer than individual characters. For such a simple mystery that the film presents, it all becomes needlessly complex as you try and unravel what it is character’s are saying, before you realise it’s nothing clever nor important.
With the narration and dialogue falling flat, we’re left with a film that finds it very hard to build any pace, and performances where you can almost see actors straining to remember dialogue. Only Martin Short injects any sense of fun and enthusiasm into his all too brief role and his scenes feel alive. That’s a very important point to express, as almost every scene is simply two people talking (in the hideous dialogue mentioned before). Scenes are stagnant and not filled with much action at all, actors rarely have anything to do but say their lines. When stuff does happen, it’s irritatingly enjoyable in that there should have been more. No doubt the convoluted plot was so important that explanations took precedent over actions.
INHERENT VOICE has certainly polarised audiences across the pond, and it’s clear to see why. It certainly feels as though it’s trying to be liked in a cool and quirky way, but the humour is shockingly unfunny. I know that Josh Brolin eating a chocolate covered banana in the foreground with Joaquin Phoenix looking on awkwardly should be funny, but not one part of me managed to chuckle. In summation, there’s a mystery that doesn’t engage, characters that aren’t fleshed out, dialogue that’s hard to stomach, intrusive narration, very little actually happening, and jokes that aren’t funny (I hope Josh Brolin yells “Moto pannukakku” one more time). Had I seen this not knowing it was an Anderson film, I never would have guessed. This isn’t just bad, it’s infuriating.
[usr=1]INHERENT VICE is released in cinemas 30th January.