Inherent Vice (15)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Adapted from the novel by Thomas Pynchon
Picturehouse, Liverpool
From 30th January 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This is a helter-skelter of a movie but I very much enjoyed the ride!

It is a multi-layered and ambitious adaptation, with many shifts of tone, of what is regarded as one of Thomas Pynchon's most compelling novels.

I found it dream-like, surreal, wistful, melancholy, complicated, a blur - all at the same time.. 147 minutes of sheer pleasure, helped greatly by the washed out appearance of the film, with director Paul Thomas Anderson using old film stock, 35mm Panavision, forgoing digital.

The main protagonist is private investigator and very laid back pothead Larry 'Doc' Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), with paranoia being very much to the fore, not helped by his endless smoking of spliffs.

It is set in California in 1970, soon after the arrest of Charlie Manson and his disciples. He is referenced at times, notably when a cop - another paranoid case -stops a car, containing Doc and three other passengers, contending that more than three people together constitutes a clan.

The period detail is authentic. I particularly liked the use of very large format LA newspapers and brightly coloured big landline telephones - micro-sized mobiles were only in sci-novels of that time!

The plot is convoluted , except to say Doc - Phoenix is impressive in the role - is asked by his ex-girlfriend Shasta to look into an attempt by the wife of large estate agent Mickey Wolfmann, of whom Shasta has more than a platonic pairing, to incarcerate him into a mental home through illegal means, in an attempt to procure his wealth.

Another major aspect of the film is the relationship, sometimes acrimonious, sometimes harmonious, between Doc and detective Bigfoot (Josh Brolin), a hippy hater. Two polar opposites but enjoyable to watch their shenanigans together.

One minor gripe was the voiceover of Sortilege (Joanna Newsom) which lacked gravitas. You hear her revealing inner thoughts that we would otherwise never hear from the permanently stoned Doc but it lacked resonance.

But there were several outstanding cameos by established actors, including the demented dentist (Martin Short), Doc's lawyer (Benicio del Toro), Penny (Reese Witherspoon), apparently Doc's new girlfriend - I was not sure, such is the nature of the movie - and Serena Scott Thomas, Wolfmann's scheming wife.

Another plus point is the sublime music soundtrack by Johny Greenwood, interspersed with music from that period, including Neil Young.

After the success of this film there will surely be further adaptations of Pynchon novels.

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