Movie Review: ‘Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’

Let me begin by telling you I am not someone that searches out documentaries. I don’t avoid them, that would be too strong a description, I simply don’t make time for them considering everything else there is to watch and report on. Taking into account that means making time for such films as The Love Guru and Made of Honor is a sad statement, but I have to eat… right?

In terms of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I had a couple of options. Last night I could have hustled over to an out of the way theater that has quite possibly the worst parking in all of Seattle or I could send in a request to have the film shuttled over to the house the next day and watch it in the comfort of my own home. Guess which I option I chose.

My interest in Gonzo was not out of love for documentaries. My only experience with Hunter Thompson was not enjoying Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to the point that I shut the movie off only 15-20 minutes in. Nope, my interest was in learning more about a man that had an effect on America and finding out why.

Now, after watching this documentary traversing the life of one America’s most influential writers, I realize my disinterest in Fear and Loathing was not having to do anything with the film, in fact it was my lack of knowledge of the subject in which it explored. After watching this doc my interest in the film has increased and I am sure I will be giving it a second chance very soon.

It’s a weird coincidence that only a week or so ago I was browsing the used bookstore and came across a collection of Thompson’s books, “Fear and Loathing” of course popping off the shelf thanks to the artwork of Ralph Steadman, a frequent commenter on this documentary along with George McGovern, Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Buffett and several others. I didn’t pick up any of them outside of just flipping the pages, but I made a mental note that his works were something I needed to give a chance.

Director Alex Gibney made a splash last year with his Iraq War doc, Taxi to the Dark Side, which ended up winning an Oscar for Best Documentary and two years before that his film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room was nominated in the same category. With Gonzo he allows the writings of Thompson to tell the story, most often read by Johnny Depp who played a version of Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and attended Thompson’s funeral after he committed suicide in February of 2005.

The film’s title is in reference to what was determined Thompson’s journalistic technique when writing for “Rolling Stone” magazine as a political columnist during McGovern’s campaign against Nixon. It is an apt title as this is the focus of the film beginning with Thompson’s book on the Hell’s Angels up until he is writing blog posts for A wild character for sure – drunk, high on acid and running for Sherriff of Pitkin County, Colorado – but the one thing that sticks out after watching this film is his passion and ability to put words on a page.

Watching the film you begin to wonder why so much of what encompassed Thompson’s life no longer seems to happen. I can’t imagine “Rolling Stone” ever taking a gamble on another writer such as Thompson ever again. Let’s not forget this is now the home of studio shill Peter Travers, to compare the two is crazy, but it speaks volumes for the day and age we are living in where it is no longer about actual opinions as much as it is about feeding the masses.

Using tons of stock footage and home videos, you get a real glimpse at who Thompson was and as the story goes on all you want to do is begin to read his work.

A major reason I don’t seek out documentaries is due to what must be ADD. I would hate to be stuck in a theater watching a doc that disinterested me. A boring documentary is worse than Love Guru any day of the week, and I feel a duty to stick out every single film and have walked out of only two in my life. Trust me when I say you will not walk out of this film. Passionate fans of Hunter S. Thompson will enjoy the hell out of this picture, those with a passing interest will find their interest peaked and for those that have no idea who he is you are sure to have an opinion once these two hours end.


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