Viewed – 01 May 2014 Netflix
There was something about this movie upon it’s release and over the years that has always made me stay away from it. The bizarre appearance of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp as famed drug addict / journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the always cautionary ‘unfilmable novel’ cliché and then the combination of drugs and Terry Gilliam – one of the more out-there, albeit skilled surrealist directors around. It seemed a bad combination. Yet now with this challenge and as a long time admirer of the former Monty Python member, who still for me made the best time travel movie ever conceived (Twelve Monkeys) – this finally had to be worth a look, right?
Depp as mentioned plays Thompson, going under various names in a three day drug fuelled road trip to and through and back again from Las Vegas along with his attorney (Benicio Del Toro) to report on a motor cross race in the desert in 1971. With a back drop of the Vietnam war, president Nixon and the hippy counter culture … this had plenty going on, but finding much entertainment in it was a struggle. This was Gilliam on acid, and for a director who already is Tim Burton on acid – that’s saying something! Hallucinations, a wealth of oddball characters, drugs, gambling, more drugs and basically two hours watching two utterly risible people not quite kill themselves (or anyone else they come across). Depp’s performance is like a Tex Avery cartoon, over the top jittery, with a one tone drawl (not helped by the cigarette filter permanently hanging out of his mouth) and is loosely aided by an animalistic, borderline psychotic Del Toro. Cameos by the likes of Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci and a nearly unrecognisable Toby Maguire prove fun … and a soundtrack covering (amongst others) classic hits from The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan turn out to be the biggest plus of this total head-f**k of an experience. By the end credits I actually felt like I’d been on some sort of trip … and not a particularly good one.
Gilliam’s direction is technically impressive and truly creates the feeling of a doped out, paranoid and trippy journey complete with unconventional camera angles and bizarre effects work (hotel guests turn into reptiles and eat each other, or have an orgy – I couldn’t be sure) … so hat’s off to him for that, but I watch movies either to be entertained or to learn something … and I didn’t get much of either out of this.
Verdict: 2 /5