D.J. Haza presents the next entry in his series of films to watch before you die…
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998.
Directed by Terry Gilliam.
Starring Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Gary Busey, Ellen Barkin, Christina Ricci and Cameron Diaz.
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…”
The opening words of both the book and film throw us immediately into the drug-fuelled craziness of Hunter Stockton Thompson. The legendary writer penned the book during the early 70s after he himself had experienced a wild weekend in Las Vegas whilst supposedly working on a magazine article. The book is Thompson’s greatest piece of work and explores the death of the American dream as a nation moved from the flower power of the 60s to the Nixon led darkness of the 1970s.
The film is almost word for word identical to the book and remains true to the writer’s vision. After several other directors were moved on due to clashes with Thompson the job eventually landed at the door of Terry Gilliam. The end product is my favourite film of all time and introduced me to the stunning writing of Hunter S. Thompson. Although a flop at the box office Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has since earned cult status and a huge following.
The story follows rebel fictional journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) as he and his attorney, Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), head to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race armed with a suitcase full of drugs and an insatiable appetite for madness. As the pair trawls the strip and a host of casinos looking for fun they encounter the down and outs, the losers and the has-beens of American society left to rot by the Nixon administration. What transpires is Hunter’s own thoughts on the way in which America was heading as the fun began to stop.
Depp is magnificent as Duke, the figure that represents Thompson’s alter ego, and spent months living with his good friend Hunter in order to learn his mannerisms and idiosyncratic behaviours. Del Toro is equally as amazing as Dr Gonzo, the man based upon Hunter’s friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, the infamous Chicano lawyer.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a film you must see before you die because it isn’t just a drug fuelled binge on wild antics and madness, but is also a deep and meaningful insight into American society. Hunter Thompson is a beautiful and spectacular writer who throws himself into a story in order to uncover a truth that no one else can. In the book are some of the most beautiful passages of writing I’ve ever read and they are used word for word in the film.
In the words of the good doctor…
“Buy the ticket, take the ride”.