Private detective, professional hippie and arch dope-fiend, Larry “Doc” Sportello looks like The Wolfman on a bad day or like he’s been swilling around on your dinner plate amongst the gravy and potatoes disguised as a pork chop. He reeks of the 60s, carelessly rolled in a field of weed, booze and free love for the entire decade. Doc is the shaggy dog in this particular story, Paul Thomas Anderson’s faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s rambling, stoner-noir novel, “Inherent Vice.”
1970 finds Doc growing out of his sofa by Gordita Beach and a hazy sun kissed Pacific Ocean. To Doc the 70s are just another day to self-medicate or shuffle into the smog of Los Angeles and a stash of trouble. When his ex girlfriend Shasta shimmers back into his life like a golden Siren, Doc embarks on a trio of cases that may or may not be linked, Mickey Wolfmann a “Powerhouse in real estate” has disappeared, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood has booked on a debt to a black-radical gang and a recovering heroin addict believes her dead, sax playing husband has been resurrected.
Doc is a lot smarter than he looks and breezes blissfully from one case to the next, free forming between clues and the colourful relics of freedom and hope gradually transforming into consumerism and cynicism. The hippie ideals of the 60s are fast becoming a pipe dream as marijuana and acid are replaced by cocaine and heroin. Communes have now become mental asylums in the year of Manson, Nixon, Vietnam and Cambodia and the sexual revolution was really just a (un) dress rehearsal for prostitution. When Shasta and Doc finally hook up again their lovemaking is now cold, hard and contractual.
Anderson directs his picture as a kind of gonzo investigation with Doc immersing himself in the cases like Elliot Gould playing Hunter S. Thompson. He drifts through the plot with a nice line in sardonic humour and his internal dialogue narrated by the clairvoyant Sortilège. When he finally becomes the case, the wild cast of supporting characters that include Nazis, dentists, FBI agents, spiritual guides and the mysterious Heroin traffickers-The Golden Fang threaten to constrict our easy-going shamus into a life or death situation. Still, only in America can a peace-loving hippie be a crack shot with a revolver. Maybe the 60s were just a brief flirtation with counter-culture before the nation cut its hair short again and returned to the Conservative Christian ideals it felt most comfortable with.
“Inherent Vice” prides itself on a succession of glorious close-ups allowing us to luxuriate in some of the most fascinating faces in Hollywood. Whether we cruise the line lipped high way of Joaquin Phoenix as Doc, ridding his five o’clock shadow or marvel at Josh Brolin’s 50s buzz-cut, brick jawed Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, Anderson’s film feels simultaneously like familiar genre fare, yet inhabits a plane of filmmaking that is effortlessly superior to anything else that calls itself cinema. “Inherent Vice” has a visual rhythm made by a man whose eyes were created by a rival god.