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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Inherent Vice': The Offbeat Tale of a 1970's-Era Detective In Search of his Missing Former Flame

Inherent Vice (2014) is a boisterous and offbeat detective yarn starring Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a drug-fueled private investigator residing in Los Angeles circa 1970. After the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), Doc becomes embroiled in a series of interrelated cases tied to the sudden departure of Hepworth and her lover Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a wealthy real estate developer.

The storyline follows Doc as he is initially visited by Hepworth pleading for help in averting the abduction of Wolfmann by his wife and her lover, only for both to subsequently vanish. Concurrent investigations involve a missing member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a police informant named Coy (Owen Wilson) held hostage by a drug ring entitled "The Golden Fang", unscrupulous dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) enmeshed in the drug trade, an increasingly hostile LAPD detective named Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), and the shadowy Chryskylodon Institute —an asylum furtively operating as a cult also connected to the LA underworld.

Adapted from Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel and directed by cinematic luminary Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood), Inherent Vice is an immersive foray into Doc’s weird world of conspiracy, crime, drugs, sex and bizarro behavior. Phoenix holds it all together with his loose portrayal of a counterculture radical stumbling from one absurd scenario to another, never fully sober nor entirely attuned to the whims of his various protagonists. It's a lengthy, spirited and borderline bewildering excursion—but given a loose rein, Anderson's take on Pynchon's transgressive voice is, at best, a diverting and enjoyable cinematic escapade.


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