Monday, 9 November 2009

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Hunter S. Thompson (book)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro
Release: 13 November 1998

Never has a director so masterfully translated the mind of a drug user as Terry Gilliam did in his masterpiece adaptation of “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”. The film stars Johnny Depp as oddball journalist “Raoul Duke” who travels to Vegas with his psychopathic attorney “Dr. Gonzo”, played by Benicio Del Toro. Although officially sent to cover the “Mint 400 Motorcycle Race” the duo takes it upon them to delve into the heart of the American Dream, armed with an array of illegal hallucinogenic drugs.

Rather than one central plot the film is more of an adventure, with the characters getting into various situations under the influence acid, mescaline, cocaine, ether and whatever else they packed away for the trip. The film is character driven, with Depp’s hilarious yet often insightful narration nicely tying together the different drug-addled adventures. Terry Gilliam’s film owes much to the novel it was adapted from, with much of the great dialogue and humour coming directly from the source material.

The true reason for this masterpiece is not just the hilarious dialogue or engaging characters but also how they represent the naive dreams of the lost hippie culture, like in “Easy Rider”. Las Vegas is depicted as being the epitome of the American dream gone wrong. A land of decadence, greed, prostitution and exploitation. A place, as Duke describes it, where “even the most serious crimes go unnoticed”.

Behind the fun of this two hour acid trip is a serious message about the collapsed American Dream of the 1960’s. The film, like the book, is set in 1971 with the main characters Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo being a represented as refugees from the acid wave generation. I’m reminded of Fight Club in the sense that this film delivers a serious sociological interpretation of American culture and the notion of the “American dream” through hilarious dialogue, innovative direction and outstanding acting.


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