Paul Thomas Anderson has created some more critically popular films—the notoriously generous Golden Globes only honored this movie with one nomination, a Best Dramatic Actor nod for Joaquin Phoenix—but Inherent Vice may be his most appealing effort. This sometimes fun, often confusing nouveau-noir adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel accomplishes what so many stabs at Hunter S. Thompson have not (see The Rum Diary).
Writer-director Anderson’s reunion with his The Master lead Phoenix gives us a sublimely stoned, if still eccentric, protagonist in Larry “Doc” Sportello, an L.A. private detective investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), and the real estate mogul, Michael Z. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), with whom she is sleeping.
Doc’s investigation leads him to run into such wacky people as a drugged out, oversexed dentist (Martin Short) and a supposedly dead saxophonist (Owen Wilson), all the while being beaten and befriended by cop-cum-actor Lt. Det. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, simultaneously pulling off granite-jawed intensity and hilarious clinginess).
The twists and turns of Doc’s case don’t always make sense; one, including Doc himself, always wonders if something actually happened or if the doper private dick is hallucinating the whole thing.
Anderson smartly includes narration by Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) to inject some of Pynchon’s prose into the film outside of dialogue; the voiceover is not as off-putting as usual. Inherent Vice feels more connected to Robert Altman’s early '70s hangdog detective flick The Long Goodbye, a Marlowe update starring the underrated Elliot Gould, than Anderson’s popular epic of the 1970s, Boogie Nights. P.T. Anderson films as amusing as this one don’t happen very often; enjoy it.