Brolin has 2-fisted fun as cop in ‘Inherent Vice’

Joaquin Phoenix, left, stars as an unconventional private eye and Josh Brolin is a blunt police officer in “Inherent Vice.”
Joaquin Phoenix, left, stars as an unconventional private eye and Josh Brolin is a blunt police officer in “Inherent Vice.” Warner Bros. Pictures

“Luckily,” Josh Brolin growls, “I don’t take these characters personally.”

Sometimes he’s the “No Country for Old Men” anti-hero, sometimes Brolin plays villains (“American Gangster”), corrupt to the core. But if you want him to pick up another badge, if you want him to play another cop, after “American Gangster” and “Gangster Squad,” you’ve got to show the man that he won’t be playing “a caricature.”

Paul Thomas Anderson, looking for an actor to play Bigfoot, a door-kicking, civil rights-violating straight arrow in his film of Thomas Pynchon’s comic novel “Inherent Vice” (set to open later this month in limited release), had such a character. Brolin was sold the minute he read the scene where the brute of a hippy-hating 1970 LAPD detective is berated and belittled when he gets home.

“I like seeing a guy, even a guy I’m playing, put in his place. That’s the reality of who they really are, contrasted with how he wants to be perceived – man who thinks he’s a big deal, Bigfoot, put down by his wife.”

“Vice” is a picaresque/Altmanesque comic mystery thriller about a pot-smoking hippy private detective, Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to save a former lover (Katherine Waterston), track down a missing surf music sax player/snitch (Owen Wilson) and figure out how a cokehead dentist (Martin Short) is pulling the strings of the drug trade, the rehab industry and the highly lucrative reconstructive dentistry business in restoring drug-abused teeth.

And at every turn, there’s Bigfoot, confronting the slightly buzzed Doc with fists or wit.

“Inherent Vice” is about the culture clash of people Richard Nixon labeled “The Silent Majority” against hippydom – “freaks,” stoners, the drop-out generation.

“It’s one belief system vs. another,” is Brolin’s take. “I love how Bigfoot tries to hang on to this idea he has of himself, this ‘Right Stuff’ guy who believes in something and stands for something and that you have to have integrity. A family. It’s not about ‘free love,’ it’s about having rights and wrongs, a society with structure to it. That’s Bigfoot. Then, you go into his house and see how totally emasculated he is. There’s no reality to his ‘Right Stuff.’ It’s just his delusion.”

Brolin laughs.

“He’s the child in the grocery store having a massive tantrum because people aren’t giving him what he wants, aren’t behaving in a way he wants them to. Bigfoot, by the end, realizes he’s never going to get his Froot Loops. And he’s having an absolute, total meltdown.”