Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro
‘Mere and Writhing in My Armchair’
Adapted from the novel by Hunter S. Thompson, ‘Raoul Duke’ (Johnny Depp) and his crazed Samoan lawyer ‘Oscar Z. Acosta’ (Benicio Del Toro) head to Las Vegas for a story, and in search of the “American Dream” via a drug riddled road trip, taking them all over the place, and into all kinds of situations.
It’s very hard to try to be objective with this film; it has a huge reputation and is highly acclaimed by many people, but it is incredibly hard to see why.
Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and Benicio Del Toro; 3 incredibly great people, with incredibly great talent – Naturally one assumes great things from such a movie, and thus high expectations are in order, though these are destroyed, very quickly.
Initially the film starts off driving through the desert; incredibly well shot, captivating, with some nice dialogue and early character establishments, but the film seems to be forever stuck in a consistent loop of everything this opening scene had to offer, destroying its potential and leading into the realms of tedium.
The film sets itself up with great potential, Depp gives an interesting performance throughout, and Gilliam creates some visually stunning aesthetics, which is to be expected. The whole film is discernibly unique, with some amazing special effects intertwined with Gillam’s well known surrealism. But that is practically all there is to this film; and nothing more. These visual elements are simply not enough to sustain a sober and conscious viewer into going the distance of about one hour and fifty minutes.
Depp at times can appear to over-act; his performance is not bad, as it suits his character ‘Raoul’ which is amiable. But this ultimately doesn’t really match up to other great performances he has done before in his career. Del Toro also felt severely underused, he spent most of his time delivering incoherent nonsensical speech, and then thrashing out in fits of rage due to his drug abuse; a very inconsistent character. It is frustrating to see such talent go to waste.
As well as these elements, there is an early contempt developed for all the characters; what they are doing and what they are going to do. Such contempt leads you to badly drop out of the story to the point where you question what the story is, and where it is going. The film lacks the ability to grab the viewer and follow a story; this cumulatively gives a string of random, surreal scenes in the space of roughly two hours with no real progression. The characters don’t seem to progress either, I would hardly call using more and more drugs a form of character development, and whatever the story was, this didn’t seem to go anywhere either. Every expectation preconceived instantly became annihilated at a snap of the fingers.
Sure, to some, the visuals might be enough; but for someone like me, personally, I need a form of depth, or at least a story with an endgame.
This loss of depth is possibly down to my personal lack of experience in the whole drug culture. The film feels aimed at these sorts of people; people with hippy views, or people with at least a decent knowledge of different blazons of narcotics. Without such a thing, the whole base premise of the film is lost.
Now, I don’t want anybody at all blaming the discrepancies of this film on the heavy and insistent drug use. Such a thing feels like an obvious counteraction to specified incongruities upon this film. “Depp overacted, Del Toro was inconsistent, the story is lost, there is no depth…But it’s OK, they’re all on drugs so what do you expect?!”. I’m sorry, but in a film, this excuse simply does not fly. In the real world, yes – But in a form of art, no.
The drug use is not a problem; this is what the film is about. But it just seems like it has been used as a device designed to be an excuse for everything wrong with this film, to the point where people will blindly watch this for the visuals, and quote depth and incredibility via a farcical pressurised mitigation emanating from the film.
There is no point nor reason for the heavy drug use, other than to be surreal, shocking and perhaps controversial – Such a thing is very bland, horrid logic. You can do those things if you like, I like them too, but at least give me a story that I want to follow as well.
This whole lack of everything except visuals leads to ultimate ennui, leaving you ‘clockwatching’ after about half an hour. But as mentioned, it is hard to be objective. This seems to be one of those films that you will either love or hate, with very minimal chance of an equidistant grey area. Regardless of all its basic flaws, the subjective opinion will always prevail in such a movie. This movie can neither be quoted as “good” nor “bad”, because unlike other films, such a description cannot be impartially incurred.
Here is my advice for anyone considering watching this film; if you are easily susceptible to stunning visuals, and/or have a good knowledge or (hopefully not) good experience with drugs, then this is a film for you. I cannot give you a rating for that, you’ll have to go in open minded.
However, if you’re more like me and crave to be captured by the film, given a deep story on top of the crazy visuals, as well as occupying a lack of decent knowledge of drug culture, then this is a 2 out of 10; tedious to the point of fretfulness. I am sorely disappointed given the amazing talent at hand.
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