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USA 2008
Directed by
Alex Gibney
120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

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

Given Hunter S. Thompson’s well-publicised devotion to excess, Alex Gibney’s documentary is surprisingly straightforward and for this reason, I would imagine, for anyone seriously interested in the good Doctor’s work and his times, a highly rewarding experience.
Gibney, who won an Oscar in 2007 for his excellent documentary Taxi To The Dark Side does not take the common path of roping in a slew of pop celebrities to reminisce on his subject's bad-boys ways. Johnny Depp narrates and reads from Thompson’s texts but as he was a friend and, indeed, paid for the Doctor’s elaborate funeral that we see at the end of the film, this is justified. Instead we get a detailed book-by-book account of Thompson’s journalistic achievements and their socio-historical context, the counter-cultural heyday of the late 60s to early 70s. The Hell's Angels, Thompson’s work for Rolling Stone magazine, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and his coverage of the failed George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972 provide the meat of the film which is book-ended by a précis of Thompson’s early life in lower middle-class Kentucky, his career start in the mid-60s and his post-high water decline, culminating in his suicide at age 66.

Interviews with Hunter's two wives; his adult son Juan; Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, Tom Wolfe; singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett; Nixon adviser Pat Buchanan; illustrator and friend, Ralph Steadman; Jimmy Carter and McGovern all contribute to creating a sympathetic portrait of man who was clearly as difficult as he was talented (some would no doubt argue more the former than the latter) and help to make this a substantial addition to the catalogue of filmic material on this fascinating period of American cultural history. BH

DVD Extras: Director’s commentary; “The Gonzo Tapes” audio excerpts; Extended interviews; Deleted scenes (make sure you watch Ralph Steadman’s to-camera address ; Ralph Steadman drawing gallery; Photo gallery; Music video.

Available from: Madman




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