It’s little wonder the most common witticism being thrown around in respect of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is ‘Incoherent Vice’. It’s almost irresistible – and already has a dedicated Twitter feed to curate its usage. Despite its instant cliché status, it makes a good point though because this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel, is a cocktail of “Pulp Fiction” and “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” filtered through a hazy “Cheech & Chong” smog and is likely to frustrate and delight in equal measure.
In 1970 Los Angeles, drug-addled detective Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello received a visit from his ex-girlfriend who needs his help to stop her current lover’s wife from cheating him out of his money. However, following the visit, her lover – a powerful property developer – disappears and she soon follows. Picking up the trail, Doc also takes on a series of seemingly unrelated cases which start to overlap, bringing ‘Doc’ up against his LAPD nemesis Detective Christian ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s faithful adaptation of the source novel is a dreamy, backlit, meandering affair, drenched in golden tones of California sunshine like an Instagram filter come to life. The disjointed narrative has gaps in it, some of which are patched up by expository voiceover and others which are left vacant. There’s a lazy, hazy pot-fuelled gentleness to proceedings despite the occasional flurries of violence and odd plot cul de sacs which litter the story. Despite this it actually manages to knit its various storylines into a mostly satisfying conclusion only to then keep going, allowing many of the threads to unravel again.
The ensemble cast delivers terrific performances and keeps your interest when the narrative goes through a fuzzy patch, with Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin particularly impressive. There’s an offbeat fascination created for many of the characters on screen and despite the lack of onscreen development or explanation, each feels vibrant, alive and rich with an unexplored back story.
Likely to be an acquired taste for many and surely destined for cult status, this is an unusual product for a major studio release. Dense and unfocussed, but punctuated with countless marvelous character moments and a vaguely melancholy ‘Age of Aquarius’-lost vibe it’s a flawed but still fascinating film. Just, you know, don’t expect it to make complete sense.