Joaquin Phoenix did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Larry 'Doc' Sportello in Inherent Vice.
This is Joaquin Phoenix's second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson after The Master where he portrayed the shell shocked Freddie Quell. Well Doc Sportello's a bit of a departure from Freddie, although I guess you could say they both are in a bit of a daze, although Doc's daze is technically a bit more self-inflicted. This role is in general a bit more of a departure for Phoenix since not only is it a comedic role, although there certainly were elements of comedy in Her, but unlike his roles in that film, The Master and The Immigrant Doc's is a lot less traumatized. Not only that though Phoenix technically plays the straight man here, which in itself seems like a mind bending concept alone. I will admit that Doc is not exactly your usual straight man, after all he's played by Joaquin Phoenix for goodness sake, but I would still characterize him as a straight man. As the private detective who we follow through a most unusual, and particularly convoluted mystery, and even though Doc might not be "normal" he might as well be compared to some of the characters he comes across in his investigation.
Doc is a bit like J.J. Gittes, well they're both private detectives, and they both often wear hats. There is at least one major difference anyway and that is Doc seems to be under at least the influence of one drug at any given time. Phoenix's performance effectively represents this through his always at least somewhat glazed look, and hey you also get a particularly relaxed performance from the usually intense Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is appropriately laid back in this and from that offers a particularly interesting take on the investigator going from one witness to another in order to get to the bottom of the odd case he's involved with. Rather than being commanding and confrontational, Phoenix is enjoyably off-beat in playing Doc style as being a whole lot more low key. Phoenix actually does not even bother to sit up straight, usually making himself quite comfortable as he only partially watches those he's technically trying to find some sort of information. Even in writing his note book Doc is not exactly leaving the most important data for later.
Phoenix is terrific in his whole routine here as he does act like a straight man to the truly bizarre characters he comes across in his attempt to solve the case. Phoenix is consistently entertaining in his portrayal of Doc's confused manner as he tries to decipher what exactly it is that each person is saying to him exactly. Phoenix does some great work in partially representing the audience in likely their own futile attempt to try to figure out the plot, while always being firmly in Doc's personal style, but most importantly really is amplifying the other performances through Doc's interactions with them. Whether it's a particular stare one piece of information that might provide some actual usefulness or some unease at one person's particularly off-putting testimony Phoenix always is interesting to watch. Phoenix actually has a particularly big challenge in that his performance needs to invigorate every bit of dialogue in the film, which there is a great deal of in this film, and Phoenix does letting the words sing in their own way even if they don't necessarily always make an absolute sense.
Phoenix's reactions are just great throughout, particularly love his quick scream when looking at a picture that horrifies him, before quickly returning to his drug addled reserve. Something rather interesting here is that Phoenix once again brings a strong physicality to his role here, just as he did in The Master, although intent is quite different. This time Phoenix proves himself surprisingly able as a physical comic actor here. There's just something particularly funny about the way he falls down when he gets hit, particularly that pratfall when one of the police officers purposefully bumps into him on the way the to the station. In fact there's something hilarious in just the way Phoenix slinks into like a ball as he awaits to be beaten down by Josh Brolin's Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen. Phoenix is altogether pretty fascinating here in giving a very funny performance while doing it in a rather atypical style. He never needs seems to be trying to be funny here in the least, but he certainly is.
Of course this is not a wholly comical performance from Phoenix as Doc does have that personal attachment to the case which is finding his girlfriend. Phoenix is remarkable in showing Doc's investment as there are certain moments where he suggests a greater concern when her name, Shasta, does come up into conversation. Phoenix is outstanding in the scenes where he actually interacts with her, because there is something very intriguing about their relationship. They don't exactly speak on a normal wavelength as two lovers or necessarily even two normal people. The connection between the two is something to behold though as you do see the love between the two which is fitting, and probably wholly logical, in their minds which always are in a different wavelength anyways. Phoenix's performance here is brilliant as he seems like always such a perfect fit for the style of the film in terms of both fitting right in as well as making it's style really come to life. I suppose Phoenix's work here does not quite hit the heights of his performance in The Master, but it does not have to, this is great work of a whole different sort.