Inherent Vice Puts a Psychedelic Spin on Film Noir

Riding down Sunset Blvd. recently, watching old haunts turn to mixed-use residential, I looked for a burger joint I used to love. It’s gone now—another casualty of a world I once lived in that I can no longer afford. Only three things are constant in Los Angeles: real estate development, greed and film noir.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Inherent Vice, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, follows the story of a private dick named Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), ensconced in a deep ’70s California haze. Doc’s old flame Shasta pops up to tell him she’s mixed up in a plot to get her real-estate developer lover locked up in a sanatorium. If this sounds to you like a plot from The Big Sleep or even Roman Polanskis’s Chinatown, you’d be right.  But where Chinatown examined the ’40s through the lens of the drug-addled ’70s, Anderson approaches the dazed days of the ’70s through the circuitous twists of the classic film noir. As in any good noir, Doc’s fortunes rise and fall, often at the hands of hippie-persecuting LAPD detective Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). Loads of fun abounds, but don’t expect a tidy wrap-up to the story’s various paranoid threads.

Inherent Vice is playing in theaters across the country.


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