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Note: I originally wrote this for the Lumberjack (HSU’s newspaper), but they decided to be cunts and went with a Burn After Reading review from the Associated Press. What a bunch of assholes. Then again, if I had realized that Burn After Reading came out that week, I probably would’ve reviewed it instead. I thought it came out the next week. Fuck God in the face, I hate that goddam paper. Anyway, let’s cut the bullshit.
As a Hunter S. Thompson fan and aficionado, I walked into the “Gonzo” documentary by Alex Gibney now playing (finally) at the Minor thinking that it would be a pedestrian run through of his life.
Boy, I was wrong. This documentary is about as comprehensive as they come, serving as both a great introduction to who Hunter S. Thompson was and as a compendium for any fan of his work.
I even learned new things about his life from this including that he spent a few of his last years with Jimmy Buffet in Key West, “wastin’ away in Margaritaville” after his first marriage fell apart. This surprised me given that Buffet is someone listened to by Old Republicans sitting outside their Ticonderoga RV, drinking Olympia and wishing they weren’t such hags.
The toughest part about making a documentary is that you are making a film in order to convince people of your opinion on a certain subject. Michael Moore, for example, is an abrasion to society, but his documentaries were done in such a way that I was convinced that he was right. And that made me feel a little dirty.
If you walk out of the documentary thinking that their opinion wasn’t the right one, then they have failed.
This documentary accomplishes such a feat. It convinces you that Hunter S. Thompson was a great journalist who ushered in a new dawn of writing instead of convincing you that he was subjective at best and made things up and was never much of a nice guy. They pulled this off through the use of interviews and readings that put him in an angelic light. The movie stares down at you and says, “He was a drunk, but that’s what made him so great. He was a cokehead and an acid freak, but it made all his writing better.”
By the end of this documentary that spanned from his birth until his suicide in 2005, I realized this was the second best biopic of Thompson’s life behind Ralph Steadman’s book about their friendship entitled “The Joke’s Over.” And that opinion might be slightly biased by genetics given that Steadman is Welsh like me.
The most interesting section of the film was when they were discussing both the campaigns of George McGovern in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in 1972 because I drew parallels to Barack Obama’s current campaign based around telling the truth to the population. Those presidential campaigns came at about the same time which we are facing in the sense that we have grown tired of the same old shitty party politics and are now trying to lean back towards a progressive presidency.
Also throughout this section there was the showing of how Thompson was able to sway voters that were on the fence. I wish we still had him around right now to slap some people off the fence and into the Obama camp. He could’ve done this or, at least the documentary did a good job convincing me of such a view.
Throughout the documentary, you got to see that Thompson was seriously dealing with inner turmoil and that his descent into drugs and alcohol was his way of coping with his mental instability that swayed like a pendulum from time to time. The drugs and the booze just kept him crazy like he liked it.
Oh, and, ladies! if your baby boy really wants to see this movie and you’re on the fence about seeing it with him, know that Johnny Depp does all the narration and you get to see his visage for at least ten minutes of the running time.
In the late 70’s, John Kaye wrote a script about Hunter S. Thompson, exonerating his Gonzo ways. Art Linson said, “Okay, I’ll direct it,” and Bill Murray said, “Okay, I’ll play Hunter.”
And then the movie came out and Hunter has been heard publicly denouncing this movie. And I can see why.
Bill Murray does an excellent job as Hunter S. Thompson, down to the demeanors and the nuances. It makes sense since Bill Murray is a top-notch comedic actor and he also spent a good amount of time with Thompson working on the movie.
But aside from Murray’s performance, this movie falls flat on its ass. Peter Boyle’s Lazlo is over-the-top in ways that can’t even be described as slap-stick or vaudeville. He’s just a dumbass attorney–one that is completely different than the Chicano”Samoan” attorney that he was modeled after (for a better version of this attorney see Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And everyone else is just poorly written and cast aside. It’s as if they wrote the script with just Thompson in a vacuum and then said, “Oh shit, he needs to have things to interact with,” and quickly wrote up all the other characters. Though I bet that if they had made a Thompson-in-a-vacuum movie, it would have been super-interesting in how Beckett-esque it would have been. I mean, could you imagine Hunter S. Thompson in Waiting for Godot? It would be awesome and uncouth.
One thing that bothered was that, during the ending, HST looks as if he’s about to abandon Lazlo and his crazy ideas–the current one being something about land in the desert. And, unless I’m mistaken, Hunter would never abandon someone because, to him, everyone he did or did not like was pivotal to his story. You can see this type of thing in his personality in you read Ralph Steadman’s book The Joke’s Over.
I’d also argue that a better sidekick for Hunter in this film would’ve been Ralph, who was his artist since the Kentucky Derby in 1970, at the very beginnings of the whole Gonzo movement. Their friendship had much more charisma and is one that should, hopefully, one day be made into a film (though I don’t know if we really need another movie about Thompson.).
This is a movie that falls on its ass and really wouldn’t seem very interesting to anyone who isn’t a huge fan of Bill Murray andor Hunter S. Thompson. Murray does such a good job that his performance makes the two hours of the film bearable.
Corollary: If you’re seeing this because you love Neil Young, you’re going to be disappointed. Every goddam song is merely a replay of “Home on the Range” with a different style to make it fit for each scene. And that’s pretty grating after Variation #3.