All squares, narcs, and Republicans can stop reading right now. This movie is not for you. And you will leave confused, angry, and completely lost as to what you just watched. For everyone with a little sense of adventure and who’s willing to let themselves get lost in the unknown, continue on into the strange “trip”, and I’m using that word in a different sense than most, that is the 90’s masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Even if by the end of your first viewing, you aren’t entirely sure what just happened, I can guarantee that you’ll be in for one hell of a ride.

For those unfamiliar with the film, the movie follows the true (but slightly altered) story of Hunter S. Thompson (Johnny Depp), under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke,  as he goes to Las Vegas to work on two different stories with his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro),  but just ends up consuming more drugs than you would think was humanly possible and causing as much destruction and mayhem as he can without getting arrested. Simultaneously, he also delivers perhaps the most insightful look into the 1960’s and 1970’s drug culture that has ever been recorded. For all the trouble people claim to have in understanding the movie, that above statement really pretty much sums up the plot because the film is less about the over-arching story than it is about the individual episodes that compose the film and the general theme of the decline of the drug culture.

This film takes the aspect of massive drug abuse as a stylistic choice in the direction and visual composition of the film, and if any film can be described as intentionally “trippy”, it is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The director, Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame), intentionally tries to increase the connection between that of the audience and that of Raoul Duke by framing each scene as it would be viewed by Raoul because of the drugs he has taken. Perspective is distorted. Colors and lighting flash and change frequently. The background often shifts and changes in a way to re-inforce the LSD that Raoul has ingested. A film about someone ingesting unbelievable amounts of drugs would be so pointless if the director didn’t help show the effects of the drugs, and here the film succeeds quite well. I have friends who are experienced users of some of the substances that Hunter uses in the film and they say that no other film captures it as well.

Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro were perfectly cast for this film, and this is honestly, in my opinion, the best performance of Johnny Depp’s career. I’ve watched several documentaries about the real Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp manages to nail every single one of his crazy little mannerisms down to a tee. It’s incredible. Benicio del Toro is also fantastic because he plays the bat-shit insane Dr. Gonzo with the exact right amount of rage and extravagance necessary to get the character across right. He can go from calm to about to snap in a second and that’s a rare skill. A lot of people get thrown off by just how episodic this film is. It really has to be digested as a series of connected vignettes that are meant to be taken in one-by-one and only then try to grasp the complete theme. Like Duke’s drug trips, the movie will bounce you around, shake you a couple of times, and then you dump you off somewhere else without explaining how you got there. To quote Thompson, to get this movie, you’re going to have to buy the ticket and take the ride.

When I first watched this movie in high school, I instantly realized this movie was spectacular but when it was over, I was so confused as to what in the hell had happened. A couple of repeat viewings later, and I probably know just about every line of this movie by heart. Hunter S. Thompson is just one of the most quotable men on the planet. If you aren’t so conservative that a movie that celebrates a nearly depraved amount of drug use isn’t going to offend you deeply, watch this movie. It’s a cult classic.

Final Score: A

 

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