Rating: 4.5/5 stars
1970. The 60s have met their end, leaving in their wake an eclectic crowd of Californian hippies desperately trying to stoke the last burning embers of free love while President Nixon brews a rainstorm up above.
If you’ve never read Thomas Pynchon’s novel on which the film is based then you won’t quite expect the skewed, puzzling pace of Inherent Vice which without a conscious effort to fully digest each conversation and character can leave you feeling as sedated as Doc, the stoner-detective played by Joaquin Phoenix whose mutton chops, long wavy hair and a certain glazed look in the eye tell us hasn’t quite adapted to the changing times.
But this sense of disorientation is exactly how the director wants you to feel; Paul Thomas Anderson dropping the viewer into the centre of a wonderful world of tripped-out delirium as Doc’s ex-girlfriend Shasta calls on him to solve the disappearance of her lover Michael Wolfmann.
As the case develops it quickly reaches a level of complexity that would befuddle the highest calibre of investigator, leaving little chance for the nonchalant pot-head whose notes rarely extend further than a quick scribble of how he’s feeling – ‘Paranoid’ the most common diary entry.
As the film goes on the Golden Fang becomes the mystery’s beating heart.
The most mysterious aspect being that Doc never actually has any idea what it is: Boat? Drug syndicate? Dental practice? Property developer? This ambiguity of the much discussed Golden Fang accompanied by Doc’s near-constant expression of confusion is perfectly complemented by the hazy visuals and soundtrack; Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood once again composing the score as he did so perfectly for Anderson’s 2007 blockbuster There Will Be Blood.
The closest thing Doc finds to a partner is Bigfoot; the square-jawed, no bullshit, hippie-hating LAPD cop played by Josh Brolin, who when stood beside Doc’s Lebowski-esque demeanour completes a priceless odd-couple.
This air of juxtaposition envelops the world of Inherent Vice, in which contradiction seems necessary and where a could-be-dentist/could-be-druglord belongs, along with Reece Wetherspoon’s closet-hippy lawyer, an Aryan Brotherhood-affiliated Black Panther and Owen Wilson as the saxophonist-snitch. Then there’s Benecio Del Toro – an actor who couldn’t be more at home in the Fear And Loathing bewilderment.
In a nutshell, if you bypass the headache of trying to piece together each and every strand of the plot and simply resign to the fact that it’ll probably take a second viewing to make proper sense of the narrative, that’s when you can take notice of all the subtleties which combine to make Inherent Vice so effortlessly cool, sexy and hilarious.
Undoubtedly one of Anderson’s very finest.