“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” That is the opening line to one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen. From the moment I first watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was instantly in love with its dark humor and outlandish visuals.
Upon release, critics didn’t quite like Fear and Loathing, and it wasn’t that successful at the box office either. More recently however, the film has attained cult status, with a steadily growing fan base.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on the book by the same name, and stars Johnny Depp as the revered Hunter S. Thompson (who goes under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke). Raoul, along with his Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), are on a trip to Las Vegas to journalistically cover the Mint 400 race. Armed with a suitcase full of higher powered drugs, the entire trip instead becomes one big hallucinogenic drug filled experience.
As far as staying true to the novel, I think Fear and Loathing is among the best adaptations I’ve seen. In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the film is actually taken straight from the book. It’s obvious that a lot of work was put in to give the viewer the same iconic imagery and peculiar sense of humor as the book. One of my favorite scenes in the film (and book) is when Duke first arrives to the hotel, and starts hallucinating that all the guests are actually giant lizards. This scene is full of lifelike puppets and vibrant colors reflecting off Duke’s face, giving the viewer the feeling they too are on a bad drug trip. Overall a brilliant use of freaky images and great lighting technique.
Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson is beyond hilarious and entertaining. I would go so far as to say it is one of his greatest roles to date. All the mannerisms and quirks of Hunter S. Thompson are fantastically mimicked by Depp, giving viewers a very memorable performance. The way he walks around bow legged and mumbles with a cigarette in his mouth cracks me up every time I see it.
The consensus I’ve heard critics is that Fear and Loathing had very little, if anything at all, to say. I would have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I think Fear and Loathing had a lot of insightful commentary, particularly about the counterculture movement of the 60’s and the growing levels of American consumerism. There is one scene in particular where Duke monologues about the 1960’s, perfectly summing up the counterculture movement better than I’ve ever heard before. He sites how his peace-loving generation seemed like it was winning the cultural fight without ever hurting another person. Yet, somehow everything changed. The hippies lost all the momentum. This “Wave Speech”, as it is most commonly known, is worth watching the film for all on its own.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains one of my favorite films of all time, and for very good reason. The dark sense of humor, commentary on 1960’s counterculture, and peculiar imagery all work to make this a one of a kind film. Plus, the film gave us some of the best Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro performances to date. I really think Fear and Loathing is a masterpiece of cinema, plain and simple. Hopefully it will continue to get the admiration and recognition it rightfully deserves.
The Verdict: A