Joaquin Phoenix has long marched to the beat of his own drum, making his casting as the erratic Freddie Quell – the personification of id in filmmaker P.T. Anderson’s Oscar-nominee The Master – appropriate; not to mention, meta, in terms of the film’s central relationship (between Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and how it compares to the common power struggle between actors and directors. Such is the nature of Anderson and Phoenix’s often beguiling collaboration.
However, that pair are taking steps to ‘go mainstream’ together, on the adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelic detective novel Inherent Vice that Anderson is assembling. Phoenix is taking a spot previously reserved for Robert Downey Jr., who ultimately passed after flirting with the role of stoner investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello for a couple years (and following fresh rumors of him committing just two weeks ago).
Inherent Vice also reunites Anderson with familiar names behind the camera, as Annapurna Pictures head Megan Ellison (who provided funding for The Master at the eleventh hour) is financing and producing with Anderson, as well as John Lesher and JoAnne Sellar (Anderson’s collaborators since Boogie Nights). Pynchon’s source material is regarded as uncharacteristically accessible by his standards; hence, it’s fitting that the adaptation – from equally-elusive Anderson – is shaping up as the filmmaker’s most commercial effort so far (like a neo-Noir satire mashed together with a Cheech and Chong movie).
THR is reporting that Phoenix remains just in talks for Inherent Vice until further notice, but it’s unlikely that a deal won’t be hammered out and finalized in the near future. There’s no mention of rumored star Charlize Theron, though it is certainly still possible the Oscar-winner will be committing (or, rather, formally passing) in the forthcoming months. Meanwhile, production appears on schedule to begin later this year, marking a quick turnaround between Anderson projects (after five-year breaks between Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and The Master).
Here is a synopsis for the Inherent Vice novel:
Our burnout hero, private dick Doc Sportello, agrees to find the new lover of his ex-girlfriend Shasta and soon gets mixed up in a case more convoluted than he could’ve imagined, including Thai hookers, a motorcycle gang, a surf-rock saxophonist, and a narcotics dealer named El Drano.
Anderson’s formed a habit of re-examining the 20th-century through the language of cinema, which makes Pynchon’s novel an intriguing choice for him. The facetious and (intentionally) aimless treatise on hippie counter-culture is fun, spinning a yarn where the stakes aren’t so much existent in reality as they are in the minds of its characters. On that ground alone, Anderson’s Inherent Vice could stand out amidst the growing sea of critical, but otherwise conventional, re-evaluations of similar events in American history (The Rum Diary, On the Road, etc.).
As for Phoenix: he’s an excellent choice to play the latest ‘madman’ protagonist in an Anderson venture, especially one who’s constantly under the influence of mind-altering substances. Count us among those excited to see his interpretation of the eccentric Sportello character.
More on Inherent Vice as the story develops.