Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter Thompson

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter Thompson (Alex Gibney, 2008) [7]

Gibney has created a thorough and at times captivating documentary on Thompson but for someone like myself, who has read and knows just about everything about the man, there isn't much in this film that is new. That doesn't mean that it isn't an enjoyable film, because it is. Gibney's greatest strength is that the film examines Thompson and the cultural persona he created as much as Thompson the author. We get Thompson's story through a variety of talking heads, from family to close friends to fellow authors. The film makes the case that Thompson was a immensely talented author, and his work on the Hell's Angels, the '72 Presidential campaign, and other events of the early 70s was the basis for the New Journalism movement as well as some of the most culturally significant writing of the era. Johnny Depp provides narration of Thompson's writing throughout at moments that really bring out the best elements in his writing. The excerpts from Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail show that beyond his Gonzo tendencies, Thompson could tap into something deeper, a keen understanding of how America operated and the path it was going to go down. While praising Thompson's work, the film also shows how that Dr. Gonzo personality overtook Thompson and led to a period of sub par writing and a characterization of the man that overshadowed everything else. Gibney pulls no strings in stating that the last twenty-five years of Thompson's life was him struggling with the persona his over indulgences had created. It's all well-done and entertaining but for any serious Thompson fan, it's nothing new. That Gibney creates parallels from Thompson's writing on Nixon to the current administration isn't surprising, with his prescient September 11th piece from showing his understanding of the situation. That the film ends with the interviewees stating how Thompson is needed now more than ever tells all you really need to know about the man.

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