Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Dir: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney's document on the life and work of infamous Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is an even-tempered, affectionate and honest elegy to the man who fatally shot himself dead just three years previous. His suicide was strangely expected, like it was a terminal disease he had had for most of his life, which makes this a rather different kind of biopic. Hunter S. Thompson was a different kind of person though, certainly a different kind of journalist, who changed the career, for better or for worse, forever. I think to understand Thompson you have to understand Gonzo and to understand what Gonzo is you have to understand Thompson. Gonzo, put simply, is a style of journalism - which has since bled into all kinds of media - whereby the reporter inserts themselves into the story and written without claims of objectivity. It is opinionated, the author is the protagonist, it has to be factual but also a little fictitious, with heavy helpings of sarcasm, humour, exaggeration and often, and for the first time, profanity. It took many by surprise, particularly the ones Thompson wrote critically of but when he wrote in support of you, you were glad he was on your side. The film is full of such people, including Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, who both acknowledge the impact he had on their success. Quite a thing, having a former President paying respect like that to a hedonistic, drug-taking ego-maniac, although that was just one side of him. The film goes into great detail regarding Thompson's split-personality and erratic behaviour but also explores his great intellect. He became something of a caricature of himself in later life, the candle shone bright and extinguished quickly but it certainly left a burn mark. His death, just like his life and career, is looked at from both angles, seen as courageous by some and cowardly and selfish by others. He is both criticized by his loved ones and admired by his foe, I don't think there was anyone quite like him. Alex Gibney covers the important parts of his career (Hell's Angels, On the Campaign trails, Fear and Loathing) as well as the often overlooked time when Thompson tried to become Sheriff of Pitkin County. Narrated by his friend Johnny Depp, who played him in 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there is an authentic about the whole thing. This has been made with those closest to him being involved and they all speak their mind, as he would have done, which is actually a rare thing these days in documentaries of this sort. It's full of great archive footage and still photos, great interviews and lines from his work, perfectly edited together. Something for everyone, no matter what level your knowledge of Thompson is.