Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest offering is a truly satisfying piece of work, like a good book each scene sends you in a different direction as you become lost in private investigator Doc Sportello’s doped up ride through California’s underworld.
Inherent Vice takes you back to a time post August 9th 1969 the day of the Charles Manson murders and also the day Joan Didion claimed the 60’s had died. Through Thomas Anderson’s vision, 1970’s California has this atmosphere of paranoia and escapism, which turns out to be the perfect backdrop for a dope fuelled detective drama.
The movie, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello, a private eye in Gordita Beach, California, whose ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), coaxes him to investigate the disappearance of the wealthy real-estate developer whom she had left for Doc. In the process, Doc—working through his cannabis haze—uncovers a network of intertwining conspiracies involving the police, neo-Nazis, gangsters, drug dealers, heroin smuggling dentists, rehab facilities, rock, protests, the Federal government, and the old-line New England establishment.
It all sounds quite outlandish and farfetched when you read it on paper, but in Thomas Pynchon’s world its all plausible and quite real. Thrown into this nostalgic mix is Thomas-Anderson’s loyal co-worker Joaquin Phoenix, who brings moments of glorious physical comedy and delivers Pynchon’s lines with a childishness which is charming to watch. Although this is not the best character for Phoenix to exercise the full extent of his talent, he does give the film a lot of it’s momentum. One has to applaud Phoenix for the shear breadth of roles he has taken in the past few years and this is another example that reaffirms him as one of the greatest working actors today.
The rest of the incredible cast are used sparingly, as you only seem them with their brief encounters with Doc. In those short fleeting moments you are bombarded with information, or confirmation of previously received information, that you end up feeling exactly like the protagonist, lost in a haze. Owen Wilson plays a tenor sax playing informant, Reece Witherspoon as a junior D. A. The main issue with these cameos is that I felt that these character’s weren’t fully fleshed out enough. The only one that stands out apart from Phoenix is Josh Brolin who plays the straight cop with a hilarious hatred for all things ‘hippy.’
Overall this is a conversationalist piece, a harsh critic might say it’s just a series of actor’s in a series of rooms, but it’s much more than that. Thomas Anderson has pulled off a very convincing and enjoyable book adaptation which seems increasingly hard to do these days, although its not as emotionally and visually striking as its predecessor ‘The Master’ it is a thoroughly satisfying film, one that at the core of the story is simply about a man trying to rescue a girl he once lost. This is one of those films I would recommend watching twice to fully get it’s appeal, as on a first viewing you can get lost in Pynchon’s dialogue and perhaps not fully appreciate what Thomas-Anderson is trying to achieve here.
By Will Harper