Drenched in a deep marauding plot is Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc, his stoned lackadaisical malaise somehow being the only thing to cut through the almost impossibly intertwined character lines and it’s his bizarre performance that carries you through the smoky fog of Inherent Vice.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson has constructed everything around Doc so the audience experiences the narrative through his eyes, his thoughts and ultimately his confused brilliance. It doesn’t quite make sense to Doc, so it doesn’t quite make sense to us.
The scenes between Phoenix and Josh Brolin’s aptly named Bigfoot are so obviously the highlight that you’re almost too busy enjoying them before you realise you’re already looking forward to the next one. Luckily they don’t disappoint and you’re never far away; the chemistry is effervescent, at times completely comical at others darkly sincere and intimate.
It’s rare that a film wraps you up so completely, the visceral engagement with our hero beguiling convention, that you forget you’re watching a film. Inherent Vice goes a long way towards achieving that end, delivering a full-on gamut of emotion: love, romance, loneliness, camaraderie, shocking humanity and genuine comedy.
In a film constructed around him, it’s hard to look beyond Phoenix let alone for individual turns to stand out, but Katherine Waterston sparkles as Shasta Fey. Her stark naked scene with Doc is just that, silencing the theatre and with it any initial involuntary titters at her female form, as with the rest of the film, forcing the audience beyond their expectations and comfort zones and in so doing delivering the most powerful moment of the whole thing.
Let’s not beat around the bushy sideburns mounting Joaquin Phoenix’s face, you feel you could watch him all day, chewing up the screen at his absolute idiosyncratic best; snarling, gurning and ticking his way through every encounter.
This is 40s noir on acid; a kaleidoscope of kinetic chaos focused through a wonderful cast of ensemble players and powered by the quite brilliant PTA.