Inherent Vice

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Inherent Vice

If you’ve ever read any Thomas Pynchon then you know that his plots are both extremely complicated and not the thing you should be focusing on in his novels. So in that sense, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of his book Inherent Vice is dead on. The tale of Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), hippie private eye and major dope smoker, as he wanders through the L.A. of 1970 trying to solve a series of vaguely overlapping cases, isn’t the kind of detective story where the point is the follow clues and put the picture together. That option’s there – all the loose ends match up – but there’s so much going on here that unless you’re planning to see it multiple times your best bet is to trust that things are going to add up and just bask in the film’s aura of vague paranoia. After all, there’s a good reason why every single time we see Doc taking notes for one case or another, those notes are clearly misleading or flat-out wrong (the name of a possible vital location is in Spanish: doc writes down “something Spanish”).
There’s a lot to enjoy here once you stop worrying about the plot; Josh Brolin’s performance as right wing thug cop “Bigfoot” is both hilarious and deeply sad, Phoenix isn’t above the occasional moment of over-the-top physical comedy to sell a joke, and the film as a whole – despite its air of paranoia (must be all the dope) and melancholy (that’d be due to the return of Doc’s old flame, played by Katherine Waterston) – can be extremely funny when the mood takes it. If it doesn’t really add up to anything much, and if it thinks it’s a film about creepy right wing conspiracies without realising that it’s really full of even creepier attitudes towards women, those are problems that come with the territory; you may not enjoy everything about it, but it’s a hard film to not at least admire.