Tuesday, December 16, 2014
America makes no sense to the denizens of Gordita Beach, California, down by the ocean at the edge of the world. It's the end of the 60s, the death of the age of Aquarius. Everybody here appears to have mislaid the plot. Paul Thomas Anderson's gloriously rambunctious Inherent Vice follows the fortunes of a stoner investigator who finds himself hopelessly lost in a case he can't solve. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is interviewing witnesses in a frenzy and scribbling "Paranoia Alert" in his detective's notepad. It's clear from the outset that he's going nowhere fast.
Inherent Vice, by contrast, turns out to be a ramshackle triumph; a colourful detour disguised as a crime caper, making antic hay from Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel. Anderson's yarn arrived at the New York film festival confidently billed as one of the prizes of the autumn season, buttressed by an all-star cast and exciting instant talk of Oscar glory. And yet Vice, for all its virtues, is too wild, baggy and disreputable to play well with Academy members - and this is surely for the best. The film's natural habitat is with the deadbeats and the dreamers, in a bygone California where hippie freak-ins bloom like wildflowers and a menu at the massage parlour advertises oral sex for $14.99. They should screen it in a pop-up cinema in a city park, with complimentary reefers and a henna tattoo.
Here comes Doc Sportello, sporting mutton-chop sideburns, a natty straw hat and a permanently glazed air. His duplicitous ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) has embroiled him in a missing person's case and he's fallen foul of Josh Brolin's straight-edge LA cop. A real estate tycoon has vanished and neo-Nazis are suspected. "Beware the Golden Fang", Doc is warned at one stage - but does the Golden Fang refer to a rock band, or a boat, or an Indo-Chinese heroin cartel? Who can say for certain? "It's real name isn't really the Golden Fang," explains Benicio Del Toro's lawyer in a conspiratorial whisper. Except that this, of course, leaves us none the wiser.