Director – Terry Gilliam
Once again we delve into the mad world of Terry Gilliam, accompanied by two utterly fantastic character actors to help bring the twisted reality to life. This is a film which gradually descends into less and less sense and further into insanity. But, to be fair, I don’t think that a drugged up narrative should be clear or should make sense. So let us delve further into this film and begin by looking at the two main characters….
Johnny Depp – Depp is a bit of a cinematic legend these days, but this is before he exploded into the mainstream and he was still rather indie and art house, an excellent character actor. I have never seen any footage of Hunter S Thompson so I cannot comment on the realism or how lifelike the portrayal is, but what I can say is this: Depp’s Character of Thompson is amazing. A twitching paranoid madman who jumps and starts, staring with wild abandon at the world around him and moving in a jerky spaced out manner. It is not too dissimilar to a certain pirate who made Depp a phenomenal star. And of course, in his Hunter S make up he shares a certain likeness to David Cross… which made me chuckle through out the film.
It is hard to think of an actor with enough Kudos and actorly chops to go against Depp and even to outshine him. However, one of those people is definitely Benicio Del Toro, he is utterly superb and another excellent actor. However, Del Toro seems to usually play far more serious and sombre roles so it is quite refreshing to see him play someone as comically insane as the Pot bellied psycho Dr Gonzo. However, despite first impressions, Dr Gonzo is not the bumbling drugged up buffoon that he appears to be. He is a definite sexual predator, praying on women and using his vast supply of drugs to weaken their resistance to his advances. He is also prone to fits of psychotic rage and is frequently seen waving big old knives or his trusty revolver in the faces of innocent confused bystanders. There are a lot of innocent bystanders in this film as they have to deal with the insane and frequently violent actions of the two drugged up protagonists.
However, scariest of all, as Dr Gonzo falls deeper and deeper into his drugged up stupor, he sounds more and more like a drunk Rebecca Mary Yates… truly a terrifying concept.
It is interesting to see how the film chronicles these two characters and their descent into drug fuelled madness. There are subtle touches, the camera angles, the lighting and the editing becomes more unusual and more disconcerting as does the background action. Little touches like the dialog shared between the extras becomes more and more surreal (Step right up and shoot the pasties off the nipples of a ten foot bull dyke! Win a cotton candy goat! ), the charred remains of bats on the road, monkeys dressed as members of the KKK or angels stood on pavements with flaming swords.
It is not just the relatively subtler moments – when the characters are tripping out on hallucinogenics, the film becomes pure mental. Hotel staff turn into conga eels, bars become filled with wildly fornicating lizards rolling around in blood and Del Toro becomes the Very Devil. With boobs on his back. It all culminates in the utterly unintelligible stop start editing of flashbacks from a Adrenacol bender. A violent mess of an experience where they very nearly kill far too many people. And where there is (in my humble opinion) far too much vomit! The descent of the film into near insanity is brilliant. By the time you reach the end of the film you don't need to have your hand held to follow the plot and these flashbacks and violent snippets and moments make as much sense to you as they do to the Slowly sobering Hunter... It is the excellent cast that helps to carry the audience through the insanity and to see the brilliance of the film itself.
This leads me to the final point that I want to make about this film, which is to comment on the marvellous supporting cast - and the sheer number of little fresh faced famous people that appear in it...
- Tobey Maguire - All long blonde haired and freaking out as he foolishly hitches a lift from those insane druggies. Although... why is he so sweaty? No one knows....
- Verne Troyer - Just doing that thing he does, of being all small and that.
- Penn (out of Penn and Teller) - He isn't really doing much, but he is there doncha know.
- Flea - Who is the cause of one of my favourite lines from the film as he licks LSD of Depp's arm.... sadly the line was too long to put into my title bar (oooh er - thats what SHE said... etc):
With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he'll never know.
- Christina Ricci - Who plays a quite possibly underage very naive woman who has been fed Acid by Dr Gonzo.... throughout her few scenes she shows off a mix of innocence with a subtle layer of sexual resonance. I don't know if it is deliberate or not. I just think Christina Ricci gives off a certain sexual resonance in everything she does. Even Wednesday Addams was a bit of a minx by the time you get to the sequel.
- Cameron Diaz - Who had nothing to but get threatened in a lift. But it is pleasant to see her.
So all in all.... I really like this film, it falls into the 'constantly quotable' category of film with some truly marvellous dialogue and I think it is perfectly suited for Terry Gilliam's distinctive surrealist visual style. Good film indeed!