An extremely offbeat detective story based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, this film is both noir and stoner comedy rolled into one. Many people said the book was too complex to work as a film but writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson has found a way to make it work. It reminded me a great deal of Robert Altman's version of "The Long Goodbye" starring Elliot Gould as Phillip Marlowe. It seems like a definite influence.
On the surface, you have a stoned out private investigator, "Doc" Sportello, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix helping his ex-girlfriend, Shasta, played by Katherine Waterston but below the surface, there is much more.
The story takes place in 1970 in the fictitious coastal town of Gordita Beach Ca. It is still a time of hippies, free love and lots and lots of marijuana. Doc is frequently stoned and the deliberate pace of the film is seemingly stoned right along with him. During the course of his investigation, Doc encounters a host of crazy characters giving actors like Martin Short, Eric Roberts, Benico del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jenna Malone and Maya Rudolph lots of room to play in Mr. Pynchon's world as seen through the eyes of Mr. Anderson. The closest actor you would consider a true co-star is Josh Brolin, who plays a straight laced detective nicknamed "Bigfoot". He is both a friend and nemesis for Doc and Mr. Brolin is terrific.
The film runs well over two hours and concerns itself less about an actual plot and more about all of Doc's episodic encounters. Mr. Phoenix is in almost every scene and carries the film. The script is complex and the dialog very smart. There are numerous funny lines and situations. It's a slow, fuzzy, fun ride but when the high wears off, you will ultimately ask yourself, what just happened?