Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Directed by Alex Gibney, 2008

“It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”

The infamgonzo-the-life-and-work-of-dr-hunter-s-thompsonous American journalist and author Hunter Stockton Thompson is remembered for many things, but the least for his writing. Mostly, he is remembered for his drug and booze-addled antics and idiosyncrasies, fondly remembered by Johnny Depp. Depp has played his alter egos in two films: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and The Rum Diary (2011). Even the wardrobe of the chameleon with a delusion of grandeur from Rango (2011) was fashioned after Hunter Thompson, and an animated avatar of Thompson makes a momentary appearance in the film.

Gibney’s highly stylized biographical documentary is temperate and refreshing, and provides the viewer with a consice and comprehensive introduction to the writer. Though it borrows from the energy that was Hunter S Thompson, it does not give in to the madness and chaos exuded by this legendary figure. It has its focus in the right place, his writing and its unmistakable style, and does a good job of elaborating on the literary and political impact Thompson’s writing had on America. The raspy, poised lilt of Depp’s voice does a very good job narrating the story and reading out passages from Hunter’s books, and the choice of music is appropriate accompaniment. Predictably, the documentary devotes a good portion of its attention to Ralph Steadman, Thompson’s longtime friend and companion and gives Steadman his due credit in the development of what came to be known as Gonzo Journalism along with Thompson. From the “fun” years of the Kentucky Derby and the naissance of Gonzo Journalism the film makes a smooth transition to the full purport of Thompson’s coverage of the elections and his scathing criticism of the Government. His writings removed him from the role of a dispassionate observer of events and put him right in the thick of things. In a way, like all great American writers, he became a chronicler of the death of the American dream and Gibney does ample justice to this literary monument.

– Souraj Dutta

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