Top positive review
A friend tells me this is pretty accurate...
on 27 March 2017
“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” (Albert Camus).
Hunter wrote a book here that is quite possibly a greater work of genius than he himself might have expected. This movie is all the more remarkable in that it is a rare example of one that does justice to the book.
There are two levels on which this book operates: as a comedy, it is beyond compare. For anybody who has deliberately gone on an extended binge with no better reason than it seems like a cool idea, this (according to a good friend) truly captures the sheer insanity and hilarity of losing basic cognitive and motor skills in a public place, whilst on a quest to see just how much chaos can be set off in 48 hours. Both the spirit of headlong hedonism and its inevitable results are captured in unflinching technicolor ("I have a powerful lust for Red Salmon"), courtesy of Gilliam's inspired direction, photography and editing. Just for this, it is worth watching as a farce that descends even deeper into farce, when you thought it could descend no lower. However, bear in mind: this is no comedy scripted for laughs with gags or pranks: this is the comedy of absurdity.
And for this it also operates on another level: in many senses, I think Hunter was fully aware of the fundamental absurdity of life and the utterly futile, yet instinctive response of hedonism to get "rid of the pain of being a man", through "a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country".
In short, Hunter taps into the very essence of what it is to deliberately and purposefully not have a care in the world, to be free and to express that freedom in as many futile ways as possible. However, this is no "Ferris Bueller-on-Acid": there's too much chaos for that. No, his is in equal parts a dark, and hilarious vision of where this freedom leads (which is ultimately nowhere, but hey, its the journey, not the destination that counts here). He does not shrink from the dark side, nor shrinks from any opportunity for laughter, even (and mostly) at his own expense. In almost a reverse of Shakespearean tragedy, the non-stop hilarity is occasionally punctuated with moments of pathos: the reminder of the pain for which so many analgesics seem sometimes necessary. The reflections on the death of innocence; the tragic encounter with the waitress.
Hunter himself was consulted in the making of this movie and, in the process, forged a deep friendship with Johnny Depp, who is utterly superb in his role as Raoul Duke. If you've read the book, Depp's delivery will add a new dimension to Thompson's wit. He is matched perfectly with Benicio as "one of God's own prototypes". His legal advice is just the sort you need for this kind of endeavour: "As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top". Gilliam, who is not always my cup of tea, finds his zenith as director here, a movie he was born to direct. His penchant for in-your-face close-up wide angle photography, irritating in many movies, finds its moment here. And while you're watching, see if you can find guest appearances from Penn (of Penn & Teller fame), Toby MacGuire, Flea (of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fame), Jenette Goldstein (aka Pvt. Vasquez from "Aliens") and even Hunter himself...as himself...looking at himself.
For those who have never thrown all caution to the wind, this will be nothing more than a twisted and disgusting road movie, or at best, a study in debauchery. They will always find it hard to understand and may never succeed. But for those who have, in their own way, thrown themselves off the cliff of possibilities, or even just an extended, extreme intoxication session, this movie will feel very familiar and very, very funny.