I saw Alex Gibney’s new Hunter Thompson documentary Gonzo last night, along with Dave Weigel, and like Dave, I was a bit underwhelmed. Not that it was bad, mind you—I’m not demanding that two hours of my life back—but it wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been, given the subject. As Dave says, it leans far too heavily on Terry Gilliam’s version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when dealing with that portion of Thompson’s career (which is a good chunk of the movie, as it focuses almost entirely on the Hell’s Angels–to–Campaign Trail ’72 period), as well as on footage from the 2003 documentary Breakfast with Hunter, which is at least arguably a better film. I actually liked Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Thompson in the Gilliam movie, but as the narrator here, he rattles off passages from the good doctor’s work in the sort of hammy gothic high-camp tone that makes him a Tim Burton favorite.
The more serious problem, though is that this is a movie about contemporary politics disguised as a Thompson biopic. I recall initially finding it a bit incongruous that Gibney would take on this project as his first film after Taxi to the Dark Side. Until I saw it. This is ultimately a movie about political disenchantment: Thompson is cast as the anti-Nixon, finally driven to despair by the ascendance of Nixon’s heir, George Bush. And while there’s something to it, seeing Thompson primarily throught this lens ends up distorting him and his work