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


Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HAVING recently taken us on a Taxi To The Darkside, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney now invites us to get to know revered American writer and journalist, Hunter S Thompson… and it’s a journey well worth taking.

Fueled by a raging libido, Wild Turkey and superhuman doses of drugs, Thompson was widely regarded as a true “freelance”, goring sacred cows with impunity, hilarity, and a steel-eyed conviction for writing wrongs.

Yet as bold, outspoken and independent as Thompson’s views were, the writer himself was increasingly bedevilled by inner demons, and eventually took his own life in 2005 at the age of 67.

Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr Hunter S Thompson focuses on the Thompson’s heyday, from 1965 to 1975, and includes clips of never-before-seen (nor heard) home movies, audiotapes and passages from unpublished manuscripts.

It also features fascinating interviews with the likes of former President Jimmy Carter and members of the Hell’s Angels that Thompson first befriended and then antagonised. Narration, meanwhile, comes from Johnny Depp, who memorably played the writer in Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas.

At its best, Gonzo offers an intriguing insight into one of America’s true maverick writers as observed by those closest to him – one that doesn’t pull any punches by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t shirk from examining the darker aspects of Thompson’s psychology.

And while Gibney laments Thompson’s passing at a time when he feels the world (and particularly America) needed more journalists like him, his film doesn’t condone his final act (deemed heroic by the writer himself).

Along the way, there’s plenty of fun to be had from the numerous snippets and anecdotes of Thompson’s wilder excesses.

The only criticism is that the film’s running time, at two hours, feels about a half an hour too long. But fans of Thompson’s work will undoubtedly appreciate Gibney’s meticulous approach, as well as several of the unseen nuggets he has managed to extract from the Thompson archives.

Newcomers to Thompson’s work, meanwhile, will probably find themselves pondering just how the good doc was able to live as long as he did, while appreciating the sincerity and often brutal brilliance of his work.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 120mins
UK DVD Release: April 13, 2009