Inherent Vice

The first Thomas Pynchon book ever to become a movie goes all out and becomes a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, nuzzling and snorting its way into the familiar trappings of L.A. noir. But instead of the invigorating detective-story revisionism conjured up by, say, Robert Altman in The Long Goodbye or the Coen brothers in The Big Lebowski, this Pynchon-Anderson combo consists of shambling through a maze of MacGuffins, coloring slightly outside the lines of 1970s paranoia and malaise, taking too long to get nowhere, and foregoing coherence. With, among others, Joaquin Phoenix as a shaggy stoner-hippie private eye, Josh Brolin as his flat-topped detective nemesis, Katherine Waterston as a sort of femme fatale, and Joanna Newsom as an awkward narrator, Inherent Vice is one of those movies that tries to put across its maker’s lack of control as a conscious and meaningful aesthetic scheme. Anderson has made his name on willful opacity, so here is more of that, also with characteristic glimmers of arbitrary lucidity. It does at least approximate the slog of a psychedelic hangover. Fans surely will buy in, and won’t be argued with, but the movie’s slackness seems like an affectation, and all that’s really at stake is Anderson’s strutting ambition to stage indelible scenes. He does pull off a few.