"Whilst Inherent Vice is already dividing opinion, the best advice is to sit back, relax and let Pynchon's novel wash over you like a psychedelic tidal wave"
The moment the neon sign credits roll on Inherent Vice, one thing is already clear: an imminent second viewing is required to unravel the multitude of bamboozlement this comic noir provides.
A 70s sun-drenched southern California is the setting for this frequently baffling, paranoid, drug-fuelled experience. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator/full-time stoner whose lavishly scruffy sideburns rival those of Noddy Holder. The elaborate narrative begins when Doc’s ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) resurfaces to ask if he will investigate the mysterious disappearance of her married lover, property developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). Doc subsequently gets entangled in the first of three perplexing cases that all seem to chaotically intertwine and merge into one other.
After an illustrious, extensive career, Thomas Pynchon’s surreally witty Inherent Vice is the first of his unique novels to be adapted for the big screen. Director Paul Thomas Anderson takes on the mammoth task of writing duties, bringing this seemingly unfilmable and labyrinthine story to life. Putting a psychedelic twist on the classic detective genre, Doc starts his quest by looking into the disappearance of the corrupt land tycoon, which leads him on a wild goose chase after a string of cryptic femme fatales. One perplexing mystery links to another with Doc gaining few answers and more questions, like, what happened to saxophonist Coy Harligen (Owen Wilson) and is his former client Crocker Fenway (Martin Donovan) related to the mysterious Golden Fang?
Though laughs are in abundance throughout this vividly colourful, psychedelia film, Inherent Vice is tinged with an underlying sadness. Being set just after the end of the free loving 60s, Anderson ardently expresses Sportello’s fear of change. Gone are the brighter times of peace and harmony, now greed and fear are slowly polluting Doc’s home of Gordita Beach. Every walk of society is explored along with their varying environments, from politicians to seedy massage parlours, no subculture is avoided.
Stuck in a fog of paranoia and uncertainty, Doc calls upon the help of his current girlfriend, Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon), and Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro); a somewhat useful maritime lawyer. However, hindering Doc at every corner is the hippie-loathing, ‘Renaissance cop’, Lt. Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, played by a strikingly inspired Josh Brolin. This frozen banana-loving cop (and part-time actor) is on Doc’s case 24 hours a day, using any excuse to get Sportello down to the station for interrogation.
Long-time Anderson collaborator D.O.P Robert Elswit captures the hippie dream-like quality that seeps throughout Inherent Vice, shooting on 35mm film to enhance the characteristic 70s aesthetic. Johnny Greenwood’s score fuses anxiety and light, all the while hinting at something sinister bubbling under the surface, waiting for the opportune moment to leap out and startle the audience.
Whilst Inherent Vice is already dividing opinion, the best advice is to sit back, relax and let Pynchon's novel wash over you like a psychedelic tidal wave.