A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

I haven't read the Thomas Pynchon novel on which Anderson's film is based, but I've read enough Pynchon to know that his work is founded on a kind of literary playfulness for which there's no cinematic equivalent or even substitute. What Anderson gives us is a kind of loosey-goosey spoof of the private eye genre that works as well as it does because of brilliant casting. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Doc Sportello, the perpetually stoned P.I. who is trying to figure out what's going on with his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) while butting heads with a police detective, "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). The time is the 1970s, with Nixon as president and Reagan as California governor, and Anderson milks the period paranoia about drugs and law and order for all it's worth. The plot is as murky as a Raymond Chandler novel, which links the movie with two distinguished predecessors, The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946) and The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973), which really were based on Chandler novels. Inherent Vice isn't as good as either of those films: It's a little too long and a little too caught up in the cleverness of its spoofery. But there's always something or someone -- the cast includes Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and Martin Short, among others -- to watch. Brolin is a hoot as Bigfoot: With his crew cut and perpetually clenched jaw he looks for all the world like Dick Tracy -- or maybe Al Capp's parody of Dick Tracy, Fearless Fosdick.