Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Review

“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

-Zachary Flint


Nightcrawler Review

Nightcrawler is another film that was released a few years back that I had the intentions of seeing, but didn’t.

Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis “Lou” Bloom, a criminal turned freelance photojournalist after he witnesses how much he can profit from videotaping crime scenes. Bloom then begins working as a stringer for the local news station, giving them all the latest stories before any other media outlet (or even the police) get to it. He starts to take things too far when he begins manipulating crime scenes and withholding information from police.

This film attempts to challenges a lot of ideas in the world of broadcast journalism. Concepts like how violent can (or should) the news be, journalistic integrity, and the dangers of sensationalist news are all thoroughly discussed. At times this could get a little annoying and overbearing. It felt as though the director was beating me over the head with messages that I hear all the time from other sources. However I think these themes were dealt with in such an over the top way that I kind of respect Nightcrawler for it.

There is one point when Bloom brings a video he recorded of a fresh crime scene to the news station. The station news director Nina (Rene Russo) previews the tape, which is full of bloodied murder victims. Knowing that it will cause the station’s ratings to soar, Nina airs the tape. To me, this was the most shocking scene in the film. While I know it was very exaggerated dramatization, it gave me an uneasy feeling that these are the moral standards that news stations live by. With no true care for the victims of crime or for their privacy, only chasing the next big news story. Existing with zero morals and no journalistic integrity whatsoever.

The visual style of Nightcrawler is laid back and enjoyable. I noticed that most of the film only takes place at night, setting a dark and drab tone throughout. The camera work was pretty standard, as nothing really stuck out at me as unique or bad.

One of the most enthralling parts of the film was Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. His performance was fantastic, he played a very convincing sociopathic loner. There were scenes in Nightcrawler where his character would ramble on and on about peculiar topics, creeping out whoever was speaking with him. Gyllenhaal would get bug-eyed and have this eerie face reminiscent of his performance in Donnie Darko.

Gyllenhaal’s character does seem to be a little underwritten, and I didn’t quite understand the motivations of the character at points. I took Lou Bloom as a sociopath who fancies nothing but being at the front of the news. Which is a fine direction to take, but I think the way his character behaves at the beginning of the film contradicts this. However this is only a nitpick because Gyllenaal puts a lot of effort into this role, and it really shows. Nightcrawler wouldn’t have been the same without him.

At the end of the day I would have to give a recommendation to Nightcrawler. While I wasn’t blown away by the film, I think Jake Gyllenhaal’s role was great. The underlying themes Nightcrawler deals with are ever so relevant, and they are so over exaggerated and outrageously portrayed that hit hits the points home nicely. If you were like me and missed Nightcrawler the first time around, go ahead and give it a watch. It is definitely worth it.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint