Sunday, 4 December 2011

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Year:  1998
Director:  Terry Gilliam
Screenplay:  Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Alex Cox and Tod Davies, based on the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson 
Starring:  Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro
Running Time:  119 minutes
Genre:  Drama, comedy,

This film is a screen adaptation of the cult 1971 book by Hunter S. Thompson.  In 1971, journalist Raoul Duke (Depp) and his friend and attorney Doctor Gonzo (del Toro) travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas because Duke has an assignment to cover a prestigious motorcycle race, however they have equipped themselves with an astonishing arsenal of alcohol and illegal drugs, and manage to turn a simple sportswriting assignment into a prolonged binge of drug and alcohol fueled madness, as they tear Las Vegas apart and glimpse the dark side of the American Dream.

The film uses a barrage of visual and auditory techniques to recreate the experiences of Duke and Gonzo.  Director Terry Gilliam has a strong visual sense and the frequent use of TV screens showing footage from the Vietnam war and the anti-war protests give a sense of the wider world at the time. 

The development of the film was protracted and troubled.  Both Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone at various times tried and failed to get film versions of the book off the ground, and Ralph Bakshi at one time tried to do it as an animated film.  Eventually British director Alex Cox was hired as a director for the film, until he fell out with Thompson and was dropped, although he is still credited as co-writer on the film.

The film features impressive performances.  Benicio del Toro put on 45 pounds in nine weeks for his role and extensively researched the life of the real life attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta (upon whom the character of Doctor Gonzo was based)  and Johnny Depp lived in Hunter Thompson's home for four months and formed a strong friendship with the writer which lasted until Thompson's death in 2005.  Raoul Duke is pretty obviously Hunter Thompson (at one point the name Raoul Duke is referred to as an assumed name, and in another scene he recieves a telegram addressed to "Thompson").  There are also a number of well-known actors in small roles, including Tobey Maguire, Cameron Diaz, Christina Ricci, Ellen Barkin and Gary Busey. 

The tone of the film veers from wild comedy to genuinely disturbing sequences and creates a powerful and memorable viewing experience.        

Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp take a trip in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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