By CAINE GARDNER
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro -- Hunter S. Thompson
When you talk about weird, they don't come stranger than the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a gifted journalist who has been described as brilliant, a rebel, a patriot and a mad-genius. Never before, or since, has a man wielded a wickeder pen and captured moments in history as outlandishly as Thompson did.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson does little to go beyond the myth that Thompson created, but nonetheless delivers a portrait of a journalist hell bent on delivering, in at least his opinion, the truth.
With interviews from people that run the gamut from a rock musician, former Nixon advisors, a Presidential hopeful and a former President, Gonzo provides an enlightened look at a man who shaped many lives and at the same time watched his spiral out of control toward the end of his life.
The end came Feb. 20, 2005 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, forever silencing one of the most influential, yet controversial journalists of our time.
Gonzo begins with a stylized opening and narration from Thompson's friend Johnny Depp. From there the film delves into Thompson's early years of writing freelance assignments, barely making ends meet until his breakthrough article and subsequent book Hell's Angels.
Riding the wave of Angels, Thompson moved on to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and then broke into Rolling Stone magazine with his chronicle of his running for sheriff of Aspen.
That's when things got weird.
After what most consider the birth of Gonzo journalism, with his take on the Kentucky Derby in 1970, Thompson struck gold. After having the manuscript turned down by Sports Illustrated, it original destination, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas found its way to Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone and the rest is history. Originally attributed to Raoul Duke, Fear and Loathing was the first literary piece that finally blurred the line between Thompson and Duke.
Although more a celebration than a bare bones documentary, the film is a series of interviews, along with original audiotapes and footage. Some of the most telling moments of the movie are the interviews with Thompson's two wives and son Juan. They paint a picture of a man who was aware of his faults and demons and all agree that they knew how his eventual end would come.
The film ends with the lavish funeral paid for by Depp. When asked why, he responded he wanted his pal to go out the way he wanted to go out.
The most moving moment in the film for me comes at the end when people are wrapping everything up. Some laugh, some are serious, but the final segment with Wenner is telling. For a man who by all accounts Thompson pushed far beyond the brink of frustration, Wenner begins to speak, but is instantly overcome by emotion and can't finish his thought.
Final Cut: Gonzo is far from a perfect documentary, but it offers a rare glimpse of the outlaw journalist by those closest to him. A must see for fans, the film is a fitting tribute to the King of Gonzo.
3 out of 4 stars
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Director: Alex Gibney
Writer: Alex Gibney (Screenplay), Hunter S. Thompson (Writings)
Rating: R for drug and sexual content, language and some nudity
Release Date: Currently in limited theatrical release, will debut on DVD Nov. 18.