(In theaters, November 1998) A movie about two heavy drug users on a trip (!) to Las Vegas at the beginning of the seventies. I have never touched drugs and after this movie I feel as if I don’t need to, having already experienced all that mind-altering chemicals have to offer. As one friend remarked; “Hey, you who missed the drug revolution! Here it is!” It’s constantly funny in a bizarre sort of way. I liked the contrast between the serious-as-hell narration and the zonked-out actors on-screen. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t miss the first fifteen minutes.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2009) It’s fair to say that I know a lot more about Hunter S. Thompson now than when I saw the film in theaters in 1998. I have also read the book twice in the meantime, giving me a different perspective on the film than at first. It’s now obvious that this is a lot more than the zonked-out adventures of two junkies on a Las Vegas bender: The “High water” passage is one of the keys to the work, and so is the increasingly uncomfortable disillusionment of the last act. As an adaptation of the book, it’s nothing short of wondrous, though director Terry Gilliam’s own pet obsessions sometimes derail the overall impact. Johnny Depp is often unrecognizable as Thompson, something that is also true for Benicio del Toro as the manic Doctor Gonzo/Oscar Acosta. Visually, it’s a trip, and the film does manage to wring a few new laughs out of the material. The pricey Criterion DVD edition is a must-have for Thompson fans, as it features three commentaries by the director, the producer/stars and Thompson himself. Additionally, the two-discs edition contains documentaries putting Thompson front and center, something that wasn’t readily available before Gonzo was released on DVD.