★★★ | Inherent Vice, Expecting Boogie Nights, you will be disappointed
The reclusive writer Thomas Pynchon is known for his dense and complex novels which he has never allowed to be adapted into movies, until now that is. When ‘Inherent Vice’ his seventh novel was published in 2009 the dust jacket proclaimed that it was ‘part-noir, part-psychedelic romp’.
The piece is set in 1970 and unkempt Doc Spotello a Private Eye sporting big mutton chops and as usual in a dope-fuelled haze, is in his Gordetta Beach hangout when Shasta Fay Hepworth one of his ex-squeezes turns up unexpectedly to ask for his help. She wants him to track down her secret lover, big-shot land developer Mickey Wolfmann, who’s vanished. Shasta is worried that Mrs. Wolfmann who has her own lover, wants to commit her husband to a loony bin but before Doc can even start investigating, Shasta disappears too.
When Doc gets on the case he heads out to Channel View Estates, Wolfmann’s latest cheesy housing development, and en route pops into a sex parlor there looking for one of the owner’s bodyguards who he thinks will be able to help him. As he gets ready to leave Doc is knocked out, only to wake up much later next to the body of the dead bodyguard, a burly Nazi-loving biker, and he is instantly accused of murder by the cops.
Doc gets out of this particular mess as his old nemesis Det. ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen knows he is innocent but nevertheless he and the FBI press him into helping them locate Wolfmann and a missing musician Coy Harlington who they all want to talk to as well. And looming over everything is the ‘Golden Fang’ that Doc has been warned to avoid. What this is he is never quite sure, and neither are we. At first it appears it is maybe a blacklisted movie star’s personal sailing vessel, or one that belongs to an Indo-Chinese drug cartel. Or it may even be the name of a syndicate of tax-dodging dentists fronted by a coke-snorting Dr. Feelgood.
Both Wolfmann and Hartigan are found but by this time the plot is so convoluted that we have no chance of making head of tale of it unless we are as perpetually stoned as Doc is. What makes this ‘haze’ so enjoyable however is the inspired and zany delicious humor that is always a strength of Anderson’s films, plus some rather wonderful performances from a fine cast led by Joaquin Phoenix as Doc. Phoenix brings his hallmark manic manner to the role and is excruciatingly wonderful as he totally lives a part that is so tailor-made for him.
Fine turns too from Josh Brolin as Bigfoot, a barely recognisable Benicio Del Toro as a Lawyer, Owen Wilson (who is always happy when he is stoned) as Coy, and delightfully over-the-top performance by Martin Short as Dr Feelgood.
If like me you were expecting this to follow on from Anderson’s 1997 breakthrough movie the sensational ‘Boogie Nights’ set in this same period, you will be disappointed as it’s simply not in the same league. It is however still a joy to watch and appreciate his highly personal stylised approach to filmmaking as he revels in a period and culture that he has such empathy with. Just make sure you read the novel first, and maybe take a puff or two as well.