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Inherent Vice | Film review - Bewildering? Yes. But Joaquin Phoenix's pot-smoking detective is on the case

INHERENT VICE - Joaquin Phoenix & Jordan Christian Hearn
(Image credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Enterta)
(Image credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Enterta)

Based on the novel by cult writer Thomas Pynchon, this wildly offbeat private eye movie set in 1970 California is wilfully bewildering.

What exactly is Joaquin Phoenix’s pot-smoking detective Doc Sportello investigating in Inherent Vice (opens in new tab)? Something to do with his hippie ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston), a missing real-estate tycoon, Nazi bikers, tax-dodging dentists, drug smugglers and a surf-sax musician turned undercover government agent (Owen Wilson).

The characters - who also include Josh Brolin’s ultra-square, hippie-hating LAPD cop, ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen, and Martin Short's randy dentist, a prancing velvet-clad cousin of Austin Powers - couldn’t be stranger. You might not have a clue what is going on. But enter into its freewheeling spirit and Paul Thomas Anderson’s film turns out to be unexpectedly captivating, with a touching undertow of melancholy detectable beneath the off-kilter humour and bizarre plotting as 1960s optimism gives way to the ‘ancient forces of greed and fear’.


Certificate 15. Runtime 149 mins. Director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Inherent Vice is released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 8th June by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.


A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.