Will Paul Thomas Anderson direct Pynchon adaptation?


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Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood,” may direct an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel, “Inherent Vice,” New York magazine reports. The book features a stoned private detective in a Southern California beach town at the tail end of the 1960s, with the attendant beautiful girls, dirty real estate dealings, psychedelic strangeness, surfers, surf bands and sense of creeping doom.

Our reviewer -- well, me -- wrote, “‘Inherent Vice’ is Thomas Pynchon doing Raymond Chandler through a Jim Rockford looking glass, starring Cheech Marin (or maybe Tommy Chong).” But it’s not Cheech or Chong who’s been talked about as a possible lead. That would be Robert Downey Jr., who seems to be a favorite these days for everything, and whose talent has been pliable enough to pull off billionaire superhero in “Ironman,” a Victorian detective in “Sherlock Holmes,” the addled writer in “A Scanner Darkly” and even an L.A. Times columnist in “The Soloist.” Maybe Downey Jr. won’t be available, they say; maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman would be a good substitute (well, yes).


But casting stoner detective Larry “Doc” Sportello isn’t going to be the hardest thing about bringing “Inherent Vice” to screen.

“Inherent Vice” may be the most filmable of Pynchon’s novels. Stack up his behemoths “Against the Day,” “Mason & Dixon” and “Gravity’s Rainbow” and you’re looking at a whopping 2,600 pages, crossing thousands and thousands of fictional miles and landscapes. His first book, “V,” is also big and sprawling. “The Crying of Lot 49” is petite, novella-slim, but has the awkward interruption of a play-within-a-play and a non-Hollywood ending.

And then there’s “Vineland” -- another book with stoners, and it’s linear, but (sorry, fans) I think it’s too boring for Hollywood.

“Inherent Vice,” though, could actually work. It has a coherent throughline, following Doc Sportello from beginning to end as he solves (mostly) a mystery. It hearkens back to classic noir film -- Doc tangles with the bad guys and, with a combination of wit, charm and dumb luck, finds his way to safety. There are the dames, the promise of sex, people who aren’t what they seem to be. There are moneyed interests muscling in on a shaggy beach community.

And there are also Pynchon-penned surf lyrics and psychedelic strangenesses. There is the free love of the ‘60s with the Manson trial droning in the background, just one of the threaded voices of dread.

The hard part of making “Inherent Vice” into a movie will be taking the goofy Pynchon and the paranoid Pynchon, which rest comfortably together inside the novel, and pairing them on the screen. Balancing that tone will be tricky.


And Paul Thomas Anderson seems like he could to it: It’s kind of like a mashup of “Boogie Nights” and “There Will Be Blood.”

--- Carolyn Kellogg