Private investgator Doc Sportello goes through life bare-footed and permanently sucking on a string of joint after joint. It’s 1970 and the Manson murders are a very recent bitter memory in an era where the peace and love of the hippies is giving over to the paranoia of those who always had their sneaking suspicions about the long-haired, soap-dodging flower children. Doc gets a visit from his ex-lover Shasta who informs him that her current boyfriend (rich and married) is about to be targeted by his wife and her lover in a bid to get him committed so that they can steal his money. So begins Doc’s investigation that brings him into contact with LA’s scuzziest inhabitants that include an all-star cast from drugged up dentists (Martin Short) to slightly psychotic cops (Josh Brolin).
Inherent Vice is a breath of fresh air after the oppressiveness of Paul Thomas Anderson’s last, The Master and the gloomy juggernaut of There Will Be Blood. Joaquin Phoenix is a revelation as the shambolic PI who mumbles his way through the film in a constant daze. With so many stoners on show, the pace sometimes seems to slow to an almost complete halt. You feel like shaking some of these hippies out of their stupor and shouting at them to snap out of it and get on with the story. In that respect, Josh Brolin’s flat topped cop is a welcome relief, whether simply ordering more pancakes or attempting to kick Doc into shape.
But really, the pleasure of Inherent Vice isn’t in the investigation. Most of the film is simply a series of conversations between Doc and a revolving door of oddballs. So Phoenix’s performance is a constant source of humour, even if you completely lose track of who is shafting who, who has disappeared and reappeared and what exactly Doc is even investigating. Beyond that, the enjoyment of Inherent Vice comes from being transported into a very specific time and place. It's got a great soundtrack and a hilariously spaced out voice-over running through it. It’s the kind of movie where the smoke seems to come right out of the screen, making you feel all misty eyed for an era you may have never even experienced. Doc is a slacker hero to rival The Big Lebowski's The Dude and with its hard-to-follow narrative, Inherent Vice is liable to leave you feeling just as drug addled as its protagonist.
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