“The edge. There’s no honest way to explain it, because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”
Lightning-powered by a hot cocktail of tequila, mescaline, anger and idealism, Hunter S Thompson spent his life hunting that edge. But as Alex Gibney’s overlong doc does make clear, it was fame that burned his brain more than drug or drink.
Thompson became a prisoner of the legend he’d created. Collaging copious archive material (home movies, photos, TV footage and voice recordings backed by Johnny Depp’s narration), the Oscar-winning director of Enron and Taxi To The Dark Side seems at pains to rescue the man from the myth.
The man who owned 22 guns. Who drank a bottle of whiskey a day. Who taught himself to write by typing out The Great Gatsby again and again.
Gonzo shows how short Thompson’s journalistic purple-patch was – and how potent. From the mid-60s to the mid-70s, he wrote a trilogy – Hell’s Angels, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72 — that formed a savage eulogy for wilting Flower Power and launched a two-thumbed fist at the throat of Richard Nixon.
His style bear-trapped vital cultural truths with stunning psychedelic wit and devastating laser-accuracy. With Hunter’s wives, son and many others all chatting freely, Gonzo seems to have everything.
Yet it also seems to miss so much. Instead of constructing a nuanced character study, Gibney breezes his early days and races through the last 25 years of his life. It’s a surface skim of his contradictions rather than a search for deeper truth – which was what gonzo was all about.
A straight-line journey through the good doctor’s loopy myth and madness, but one that doesn’t push far enough into uncharted territory. Fine as a primer, but Gibney leans more towards admiration than examination.