The Rotten Tomatometer: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50%
The first time I watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I had no idea what I was watching. Since that initial viewing, I’ve become familiar with the work of Hunter S. Thompson and couldn’t get enough of his writing.
He was the cooler older brother who returned home on break from college, regaling you with his accounts of what the real world was like. Stories so vivid that you desperately wanted to believe every word he said was true.
He had a penchant for inserting himself into every story he wrote, and his writing, dubbed “Gonzo journalism,” had a colloquialism to it that many have mimicked, but failed to accurately replicate.
The film itself is a bad dream, or more appropriately, a bad trip through every drug in existence. It’s a venture in Las Vegas few have experienced, or if they have, can’t remember.
Johnny Depp plays Thompson, under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke, joined by his lawyer, Benicio del Toro’s Dr. Gonzo.
The two are on their way to Sin City in order for Duke to cover dirt bike races in the desert, and Gonzo comes along to offer legal advice as to which drugs to sample over the course of the trip. It’s a business trip with added pleasure.
Recounting the plot is futile, as after the first half hour or so the film falls into a tailspin, leaving the character’s journalistic intentions behind for a trip down one drug-addled rabbit hole after another.
It’s a condemnation of the American Dream, damning the counterculture movement and offering little solace for the city of Las Vegas, using it as little more than a metaphor for all that is wrong with America.
Thompson originally wrote the story as a two-part series for Rolling Stone magazine, later subtitling the book “A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.” It offers little explanation as to why the world is the way it is, rather highlighting its faults and unabashedly mocking it to its face.
Gilliam got his start as an animator for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and soon became the only American-born member of the troupe. He’s never quite lost his oddity over the years and it makes sense the same man directed this film in addition to Brazil and 12 Monkeys, among others. All his films follow the same template by having a rough outline of what needs to occur, all before allowing his mind to wander in search of the most abstract manner to tell his story.
He prioritizes visuals over everything else, reverting back to his origins as an animator.
Depp is having the time of his life portraying his friend (he moved into the basement of Thompson’s home for four months prior to the start of production), having carefully studied every tic, bellowing out an eerily identical voice. Who better to portray the legendary journalist and his most famous work than the man who was able to make sense of Thompson’s rambling monologues? Depp plays him in a larger-than-life manner, highlighting every comical nuance of a man losing his mind to illegal substances.
The film rambles on, humorously so for much of it, but for viewers unfamiliar with Thompson and his work, none of it will make sense. It’s designed as an inside joke, but for the initiated it’s very funny. Gilliam accurately recreates the Gonzo lifestyle, or at least he did according to the man himself. Thompson experienced flashbacks at a test screening for the film, and later praised Depp’s narration as being the factor that prevented the film from being “a series of wild scenes.” That much vividly reflects the innumerable trips Raoul Duke and Gonzo experienced while on their adventure in the city of sin.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the cult classic that inspired your favorite (post-1998) cult classic; a film that will alienate most and intrigue all others, and the most sane fun one can have with narcotics without getting arrested.