Hunter S. Thompson aka Raoul Duke is driving his convertible across America, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Thompson’s a writer who lived through the Great Acid Years of San Francisco and is still buzzing through life, 5 years later. On board with him is Dr Gonzo, his lawyer, a man who’s as much addicted as him. They’re heading to the City of Sin to cover a motorcycle race, but they’re mostly heading for trouble. They’re bringing nothing but attitude, funky shirts, and plenty of mind buglers: ether, mescaline, cocaine, hasch, LSD and other hallucinatories.
This film is many things at once. It’s kinda like these 60s road-movies about stoned misfits looking for the American Dream, like, say, “Easy Rider”. But the drugs are much more present. Thompson and Gonzo never seem to have a clear mind. The whole film feels like an acid trip. Terry Gilliam directs this crazed ride with his unique visual style. Each shot is amazing. The camera never stops moving, traveling, tilting, zooming… The film makes you feel like you’re as wasted as the characters by never really giving you a straight shot. The sets are unbelievable, and colors and weird details abound. Vegas never looked so strange! You know, that’s one of the things that makes this flick exceptional. You’re not just witnessing the story, you’re actually experiencing it. Even after you leave the theater, you’re still on that groove.
The film is based on Thompson’s semi-autobiographical book, and the storytelling is out of this world. You’re never really sure of the chronology. Stuff happens, then the film takes you a few days back, or it moves to a memory, or an hallucination… If you thought that “Natural Born Killers” was madcap, you ain’t seen nothing yet! If you’ve ever done acid, you know that it actually messes you up just like that.
Another of the film’s values is in the performances. Johnny Depp has played many quirky characters, but I think he just went beyond himself. As Thompson, he sports various sunglasses, weird hats, unusual clothes, and he shaved his head to look bald. But that’s just the tools. Depp becomes Thompson and goes in all the stages of drug abuse. There’s the moments of paranoia, the black-outs, the amusing grooves… As he cha-cha through hotels, deserts and casinos, Depp is always riveting. He contorts himself and plays with speech like only a stoned dude could. It’s both frightening and hilarious, like the rest of the film. Depp also narrates the film, and it gives the ensemble a more defined spirit. Thompson’s observations on events are weird yet very interesting. Benicio Del Toro is also great as the fat and hairy lawyer prompt to taking out his 357 and his buck knife. Del Toro pulled a De Niro and packed 40 pounds for the role. He’s almost impossible to recognize! The film also features cameos from Christina Ricci and Tobey Maguire as dopey teenagers, as well as Cameron Diaz, and Lyle Lovett.
This is one awesome flick, often hilarious and always visually stunning. The soundtrack is filled with kick ass mind altering music from the likes of Janis Joplin, the Doors, Cream and other cool bands. This film has to be seen to be believed. It’s just too bad that, like acid, it gets tiresome after a while; the film could have been 15 minutes shorter. It’s still very memorable.