In ‘Inherent Vice,’ Phoenix is a shaggy PI

January 8, 2015 9:39 PM

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In ‘Inherent Vice,’ Phoenix is a shaggy PI

‘Inherent Vice” is an LA detective story that has been twice filtered, first through the contact-high sensibilities of novelist Thomas Pynchon (it’s the first of his books to make it onto film) and then through the misterioso moviemaking skills of Paul Thomas Anderson. Master obscurantists, both of them, as anyone knows who has fought his or her way through either Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” (1973) or Anderson’s “The Master” (2012). Yet each man, in his way, has a knack for illuminating the dark, pulpy nub of things — the malaise, the grim truths, that can be glimpsed beneath our American everyday like a leviathan beneath the waves. The new movie just lets one artist speak in the voice of another.

Literally, at times. “Inherent Vice” is probably Pynchon’s most comic novel, with its perpetually stoned hippie private eye, Larry “Doc” Sportello — played in the film by a mutton-chopped Joaquin Phoenix — tooling around 1970 Los Angeles trying to get to the bottom of a bottomless case. The novelist...

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