Inherent Vice film review

Inherent Vice is a film of a recent Thomas Pynchon book of the same name. By all reports, not one of Pynchon’s more profound novels, but that still puts him head and shoulders beyond most fiction writers. Except that Pynchon is only partly a fiction writer; he has been chronicling historical eras through his own lens and for his own philosophical purposes since Gravity’s Rainbow, his third book in 1973.
Here, the dope-infused California of 1970 is the scene and star of the film. Any Pynchon book, because of the constant and staggering outpouring of detail, would be extraordinarily difficult to film – perhaps why this is the the first one – but Paul Thomas Andersen, director of The Master, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, has succeeded beyond expectation. His use of the saturated colour of 70s porn films added a brilliant atmosphere to the film.
It has a distinctly convoluted Chandleresque plot (has anyone ever figured out The Big Sleep?) that takes us through the drug consuming and dealing strata, free love, the LA cops, the inevitable property developers and the equally inevitable (this is California) rehab & religion retreats. So it is not unusual in that sense, treading similar ground to film such as Chinatown or The Big Lebowski. But it is different, told as it is from the perspective of the pot-befogged private eye,Doc Sportello, perfectly portrayed by Joaqin Phoenix. There is narration (by squeaky voiced Joanna Newsom) but Doc remains the central character, a kind of intelligent cypher with alternately spine-chilling and sexy characters swirling about him like devils in some pothead medieval painting.
There are currents and undercurrents: the slightly mentioned but indelible Manson Family, the crooked LA police, crooked large scale hard drug importers, crooked hospitals and, of course, crooked land developers. But there is an ultimate awareness that there is something afoot that is greater than the sum of these parts. Nevertheless, throughout the film is hilarious; I found myself frequently laughing out loud – and not alone, as is sadly often the case.
It is very Pynchonesque, and very telling, that “inherent vice” is an actual technical term which means “The tendency of material to deteriorate due to the essential instability of the components or interaction among components.” So, humorous though it may be, it would be a mistake to see this film as a comic paean to the hippie Garden of Eden when it’s really about the snake. 2015-02-07_1828

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