Saturday, January 27, 2018

Movie Review: Inherent Vice

For the first time, a work of fiction by Thomas Pynchon is adapted for the screen by the great director Paul Thomas Anderson. The story is narrated by the hippie Sortil├Ęge (Joanna Newsom) who relates the tale of Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Doc is a stoner and private investigator who was hanging out in his apartment smoking a joint when his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) shows up using the same path she used when they dated. Shasta is in trouble like many girls that start stories of private investigators uncovering grand conspiracies. She was in a relationship with a married man Michael "Mickey" Z. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) whose wife Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas) and her lover want to have Mickey committed. They have asked Shasta to be a part of the betrayal and if she refuses, she may end up dead. 

Doc has a special place in his heart along with foggy memories of great times with Shasta so he feels obligated to follow up on her request. He calls up his aunt who has the details on California realty and warns him against looking too closely at Wolfmann and his back of neo-nazi bikers. Doc's curiosity is peaked further when Tariq Khalil (Michael Kenneth Williams) arrives at his office inquiring about a cellmate who went missing and may be part of Wolfmann's gang of bikers. Doc heads out to a development where he finds a strange restaurant or brothel. He speaks with the host Jade (Hong Chau) but then sneaks off to investigate only to get clubbed over the head. He wakes up next to a dead biker and surrounded by police led by the vicious Lt. Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). 

Bigfoot arrests Doc but the private investigator manages to be set free with the help of his lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro). Freed from Bigfoot and having learned that Wolfmann has disappeared, Doc gets another case from Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) an ex-addict who is looking for her husband Coy (Owen Wilson). Before Doc can even begin searching, Coy finds him and tells him he is hiding out at a house where his old band plays though no one recognizes him because of high turnover in membership. Coy later informs him that he is an informant but is hiding out in fear of his life. Doc has a fling with a Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) and see Coy on television. Jade warns Doc of the Golden Fang. Sauncho is an expert in marine law and has heard of a drug smuggling ship of the same name. A postcard leads Doc to a building that looks like a golden fang and hosts a group of dentists who help former addicts repair their teeth. 

Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) is one of those dentists with a cocaine habit and a relationship with a young woman Japonica Fenway (Sasha Pieterse) who was a subject of one of Doc's older cases. Doc, Japonica, Dr. Blatnoyd, and Denis (Jordan Christian Hearn) ride together and get pulled over but they are let go. Dr. Blatnoyed ends up mysteriously murdered. Bigfoot tells Doc about a spa where Doc sneaks in and finds Mickey who has been thoroughly brainwashed. Doc finds Shasta back at their house where they have sex though Shasta insists they are not back together. Doc solves one last part of the mystery when he confronts Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie) and barely escapes alive with a ton of heroin that he has to return to the Golden Fang. 

Inherent Vice has made a little more sense every time I watched it but it is still plenty confusing even after I read the book before I saw the film in theaters. Still, the movie has the great style of directing from Paul Thomas Anderson and great performances from its all-star cast. Phoenix is goofy as the stoner Doc while Brolin as Bigfoot may be his funniest performance. Pynchon's writing is so dense and full of jokes and extra information that it would appear to be impossible to adapt but somehow Paul Thomas Anderson has done that and made an entertaining film. 

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