Movie Review: Inherent Vice

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By Penelope Steiner. A gloomy, sordid tale based on the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel. The action takes place in California, 1970; black times warped by the Vietnam War, rampant drug use, pervasive, cynical disillusionment of the young; freedom, release found in evading the draft, sleeping on beaches; life anesthetized; reality frozen by illegal substances; era of “hippies”, Charles Manson, Richard Nixon and “Larry “Doc” Sportello” (gritty, mesmerizing performance by Joaquin Phoenix).

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, enamored with film noir, mystery writers Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, “Stg. Joe Friday ” of “Dragnet”, television’s 50’s crime series, paints a realistic, merciless portrait of Los Angeles, still in its adolescence, suffering from a profusion of graft, drowning in moral turpitude, stripped of accountability or hope.

Joaquin Phoenix, whose resources have yet to be fully excavated, is positively profound as “Doc” a private detective wallowing in the underbelly of society’s disenfranchised; with a total lack of egotism, perpetually smothered in a haze of cocaine, nicotine; his control, never fractured, as he maneuvers between the circumstances of his ex-girlfriend “Shasta” (sinuous Katherine Waterston); “Lt.Det. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen” (seething, enigmatic performance by Josh Brolin); “Penny” (versatile Reese Witherspoon) Deputy D.A. and occasional lover of “Doc”, a pairing, totally miss-matched; belle blending with the barbarian.

“Inherent vice” an insurance term, specifies “the tendency in physical objects to deteriorate because of the instability of the components of which they are made”. “Inherent Vice” uses cocaine as a metaphor for the human condition. Difficult, squirmy to experience, but truthful to the core.