Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Hunter S. Thompson probably wasn't the greatest writer of his time, but he was easily the most original and colorful.
Coined by Thompson's former "Boston Globe" editor Bill Cardoso, the word "Gonzo" is a term applied to a specific type of subjective, often bizarre journalism where the reporter is also a key figure in the story he is covering. It was the perfect word to describe everything about Thompson.
A man with a relatively blasé upbringing, Thompson the young man quickly embraced the "anything goes" mentality of the '60s.
After two failed novels (one - "The Rum Diary" finally published in 1998) and several stabs at traditional reporting, Thompson hit pay dirt with the 1966 book "Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." He became an overnight success and one of highest profile freelance writers of the day as well as the principal contributor to the newly founded "Rolling Stone" magazine.
During the next five years, Thompson wrote two more critically acclaimed bestsellers ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72") and ran for the office of sheriff in Aspen, Colo. - an election he almost won. By the late '70s, Thompson's assorted addictions and demons finally caught up with him and his creative output dwindled to a mere trickle.
In other, less steady hands, Thompson's turbulent story could have resulted in a fawning whitewash or worse, just another clichéd sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll burnout tragedy. To everyone's benefit, the documentary was written and directed by Alex Gibney, whose recent efforts include "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and the Oscar-winning "Taxi to the Dark Side."
Undoubtedly the most talented documentarian working today, Gibney's films are so balanced, unbiased and painstakingly crafted, they take on the look and air of dramatic, live-action movies. Gibney recognizes Thompson's considerable contributions to literature without turning him into something larger than life. He points out his foibles while including praise and hot-and-cold testimonials, some from the most unlikely sources. Even former aid to Richard Nixon and ultra-conservative pundit Pat Buchanan, who regularly butted ideological heads with Thompson, speak of the man with great professional regard.
There aren't many writers who have had feature films made about them while they were alive. Thompson has two - "Where the Buffalo Roam" with Bill Murray and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" starring Johnny Depp, who narrates here and will play the lead in the 2009 adaption of "The Rum Diary."
Thompson crammed a lot of life into the space of relatively few years. He was brash, indignant, irreverent and unorthodox and was often his own worst enemy. He was also an uncompromising visionary who forever changed his landscape of his craft and strictly adhered to a code not all of us would necessarily admire, but could all certainly respect. There will never be another like him. (Magnolia)