IT’S 1978 and Shasta the ex-girlfriend of drug-addled PI “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is telling the audience how she has kicked her addictions and is now counselling schoolkids about sensible drug use (the first of many mordant comic moments). Shasta wants Doc to prevent the wife of her new lover Wolfmann and the wife’s lover from abducting Wolfmann and immuring him in an insane asylum.
The complexity of that mission underpins a film that engages an impressive cast of American and British actors to tell a story that pulls no punches. Discover a duplicitous LAPD lieutenant, a cocaine-snorting dentist, a deputy district attorney who’s Doc’s occasional lover, the price list behind a brothel reception desk, indeed a long list of unexpected people and events that make the film’s 148 minutes a pleasure to endure.
The humour doesn’t stand up and say: “Here I am”. You must peer behind what you’re seeing and hearing to get full satisfaction from it. The in-your-face violence is uncompromising, the convoluted relationships are byzantine and the characters are a wonderful bunch of misfits, victims, no-hopers, opportunists, social detritus and power-brokers of questionable moral integrity.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, well supplied with wit, complex enough to please the most demanding puzzle solver and more funny ha-ha than any crime thriller has a right to be, is the first film based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon. Anderson adapted it. I’m off to the local library to meet what’s been missing from my reading life.
At Palace Electric and Hoyts Belconnen.