on Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’

ArticleJ. Hoberman at Artforum:

IT IS OBVIOUS BY NOW that Paul Thomas Anderson isn’t making individual movies so much as building an oeuvre block by block—the sturdiest, most resilient body of work by a big-time American director since Stanley Kubrick died and Martin Scorsese ran out of steam.

Big, ambitious, and American are the operative words. Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999) were sprawling ensemble pieces that challenged Scorsese and Robert Altman on their own turf; in their concern with self-invented American Übermenschen and up-front eccentricity, There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012) engaged Orson Welles. Anderson’s smaller films, Hard Eight (1996) and Punch-Drunk Love(2002), pondered more marginal if equally echt-American types, and his latest movie, Inherent Vice, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as Thomas Pynchon’s hippie private eye Doc Sportello, falls into this category. A panoramic actor fest, it is also an extremely credible adaptation of the closest thing to an easy read by the writer whom some consider America’s greatest living novelist.

Structurally, Inherent Vice is pure School of Chandler, with Doc suckered into the plot by an old girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), whose problems with her sugar daddy, scumbag developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), illuminate a classically Los Angeles real-estate scam . . . for starters. Behind it all is an “Indo-Chinese” drug cartel, a stand-in for the Vietnam War and ultimately a front for whatever cosmic antiplan you like—Doc Sportello being a sort of acidhead Don Quixote complete with intermittent sidekick, maritime lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro).

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