By Skylaire Alfvegren
Review in a Hurry: A poignant and personal look into the life and times of legendary gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, proves the spirit of the good doctor is more relevant than ever.
The Bigger Picture: In this documentary, no less a Republican figure than Pat Buchanan makes the comment that Hunter S. Thompson--father of gonzo journalism and icon to anyone that’s ever dropped acid and picked up a pen--“flamed out too quickly.” The speechwriter for President Nixon (one of Thompson’s biggest targets) adds, “He had so much more to give.”
Thompson’s explosive, participatory, drug-addled tomes—The Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (which details a year spent following the ’72 Nixon/McGovern White House race)—took no prisoners, and the insights of editors, friends, authors and historians in this documentary make his absence that much more stinging.
Thompson committed suicide in 2005, having birthed a new journalism as well as an alter ego no mortal could live up to. Lovingly narrated by pal Johnny Depp (who portrayed the author in Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Fear and Loathing), his life, times and immense (if uniquely expressed) patriotism are meted out exclusively in the author’s own words and pictures.
Long disillusioned by America’s politics, it is apparent from the film’s opening narration—words he wrote on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001—and insights of his second wife, Anita, that Bush’s re-election was the last nail in the good doctor’s pre-planned coffin. In the film, author Tom Wolfe notes, “He could’ve wielded a pretty effective sword against what’s going on now.”
Copious archival footage chronicle Thompson’s fight—from psychedelic, early ‘60s San Francisco, to bike gangs and political campaigns—and dewy-eyed remembrances from the likes of illustrator Ralph Steadman and publisher Jann Wenner lend a human sheen to an icon who became a “hostage to his persona.”
The 180—a Second Opinion: Too much screen time is given to Thompson’s coverage of the ‘72 presidential race. Arguably the zenith of his literary career, interviews with George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Gary Hart are damned insightful but detract en masse by stealing time that could’ve been used more optimistically.