“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is the film adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name. Thompson is credited with essentially creating “Gonzo Journalism,” a style in which the journalist covering the story immerses themselves in the event so much that they often become part of the article, and the article becomes more of a first-person narrative piece. The film was being shown at the Putnam Theatre this week.
In addition, Thompson is credited with writing for not only Rolling Stone magazine, but several books and novels as well, including “Hells Angels,” and “The Great Shark Hunt,” two examples of his incredible journalistic abilities and unique demeanor. “Fear and Loathing” opens with main characters Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) speeding through the desert towards Las Vegas.
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Duke is the pseudo-name for Thompson, appearing as the pen name for many of Thompson’s work, and Gonzo is Duke’s huge Samoan attorney. Duke is to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race for a travel magazine, and the two have decided that renting a fancy car and filling it with psychedelic drugs would be the best way to go about covering the event. After outrunning a swarm of hallucinated bats, the two protagonists pick up a young hitchhiker (Tobey Maguire) and Gonzo proceeds to scare the youth so much with his LSD-induced jargon that the hitchhiker actually jumps out of their moving car and flees into the desert.
Upon their arrival at their hotel in Las Vegas, Duke and Gonzo become separated and Duke goes to fulfill his journalistic duties by covering the Mint 400 race with a head full of acid. It’s at this point in the movie that I really started to enjoy Johnny Depp’s role in the film as Duke. His interactions with other characters at the Mint 400 were awkwardly hilarious and clearly portrayed someone who wasn’t all there in the head. His dialogue and body movements with other characters seemed very fitting for the current situation, and having read other books by Thompson, similarities between Depp’s acting and the feelings expressed by Hunter is his book can be drawn quite easily. Following Duke’s little adventure out in the desert, he returns to his hotel room to find Gonzo unravelling at the seams like an old shirt. Del Toro is fulfilling his role as a large, drug-fueled attorney quite well, being as irrational as possible towards Duke throughout the film. Duke and Gonzo think that it’s the right time to eat some more mescaline and head towards a circus. Isn’t that a good idea? Duke described his experience there as nothing less than “Bazooko’s Circus is what the whole world would be doing every Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This was the Sixth Reich.”
Following their impromptu departure from the circus, Duke and Gonzo are separated, and when Duke returns to the room he find his companion submerged in the bathtub, chewing on a sheet of blotter acid listening to Jefferson Airplane. Electronics and water don’t mix very well, and Duke removes the radio from the room and locks Gonzo in the bathroom to let him ride his trip out.
The next morning Duke wakes up to find himself alone in his hotel room with a huge cleaning bill and a missing drug buddy. Duke leaves the hotel and attempts to leave town. He receives word from Gonzo that the District Attorney’s convention is taking place in Vegas and the two are to reunite there and decide it’s the best place to covertly bump some cocaine. A little ironic don’t you think? Thompson kind of lives by the “pushing the envelope” mantra in this film, drinking beers in the car, snorting cocaine in the D.A. Convention, and just kind of giving the finger to authority throughout the book by walking around Vegas a little bit twisted.
Before they attend the meeting, however, Duke receives word that Gonzo has met a girl by the name of Lucy, dosed her with LSD, and made her his female companion for his psychedelic vacation. Duke is furious with the news about Lucy, and convinces Gonzo to drop her off at another hotel before her trip wears off. After dropping Lucy off at a random hotel and attending the D.A meeting, Duke drops Gonzo off at the airport and drives back to Los Angeles. A seemingly simple ending to a ridiculous workweek. Overall, I really enjoyed the acting in the film, and I thought that although the director (Terry Gilliam) did a great job with cramming a novel into two-hour film, I really felt that there were still parts missing. It is, however, a book that was made into a screenplay, and I can’t expect every aspect of Thompson’s imagination (or reality) to make it onto the silver screen.
For what it is however, I thought the film did a great job portraying the important aspects of the of the book, and it certainly didn’t skimp on any of the elements that made the book a classic for its notoriety and hilarity.
Tom MacLennan can be contacted at email@example.com