06
Apr
09

‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’

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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3 Responses to “‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’”


  1. 1 Dr Gonzo
    April 7, 2009 at 3:38 am

    I could write a review of this review, but it would take me too long. I feel that viewers of all persuasions may benefit from watching this film, and that it would be wrong to suggest that this film uses drug-use as an excuse for its eccentricity. I think my main contention with the reviewers position can be summed up as inexperience in the counterculture surrounding the 60s and to some extent 70s, in particular the era of psychedelia.

    I have lifted one paragraph which I deem central to the problem of (admitted) inexperience, and will attempt to analyse this segment:

    “This loss of depth is possibly down to my personal lack and experience of the whole drug culture.”

    This is more than possible: but that doesn’t highlight that the lacks depth, only the reviewers inability to perceive any depth within it.

    “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.”

    The first half of this statement is very judgmental, even dismissive of what may well be the potential target audience – ‘these sort of people’, ‘people with hippy views’. On the other hand, there may be a degree of esoterica involved – one needs initiation in order to ‘get’ what this film is about – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it for the lay person – even if that part is potentially inaccessible to them.

    In response to the next point: you don’t need to know what all the drugs are or indeed do in order to understand that the psychological effect on the characters who are taking them leeches into the camera lens – you are seeing it through their eyes. This point is actually a unique triumph on Gilliam’s part.

    “Without such a thing, the whole base premise of the film is lost.”

    Well, if the premise of the film is “x and y 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.” then the premise is not lost only expounded as the film unfolds. The premise isn’t lost, only the reviewers ability to follow the plot.

    “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.”

    So films/art in general can’t depict the inconsistencies and confusions encountered in the real world? Even if those experiences are only encountered during altered states (as Thompson’s undoubtedly were), this doesn’t make them any less worthy a subject of contemplation via art than any of the 1000’s of mundanities that are, nay should, be allowed onto the screen – in the reviewers opinion.

    “The drug use is not a problem; this is what the film is about.”

    Yes it is, and consequently it deals consciously with the polarisation of drug-use versus misuse (I refer the reviewer to the scene where the protagonists are in the police drug convention being held in a hotel: both proceed to ingest snortable drugs, whilst the police chief makes a wise crack about pot-heads being groovy…and the another scene where Raoul commentary states that Las Vegas loves a drunk so they get let in for free. The fact that they are on ether is besides the point here, and neither is the fact that ether is easily obtainable from school chemistry labs the world over)

    “But it just seems like it [drug use] 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.”

    This point is just plain misguided: if it wasn’t for the drugs, Thompson would never have written the book which Gilliam later put onto film. They are neither a device nor an excuse, they are the reason the book was written, and therefore the reason the film was made- there is a massive difference. There is depth if you can perceive it and the visuals add to the incredible and ridiculous experiences the protagonists have. If all you can say is that you enjoyed the film for the visuals then you have genuinely missed the point if this film.

    ‘farcical pressurised mitigation emanating from the film’ – does this mean to say that you felt as if you are being forced to take a less severe stance on drug use? Well then you must have thought that this film was telling you that what they are up to is a good thing, because each time I have seen this film I consider their experience to be a hellish (if comical) one, and the title indeed is a bit of a give-away as to the authors own view – fear and loathing.

    “There is no point nor reason for the heavy drug use, other than to be surreal, shocking and perhaps controversial”

    But “The drug use is not a problem; this is what the film is about” ??? There is a reason for the drug use, its what the film is about: there is no point or reason for the drug use. Now that is ‘horrid logic’.

    “Such a thing is very bland, horrid logic. ”

    Apropos of the reviewers self-contradiction I heartily concur, but in terms of the film, it is central. If you like

    “You can do those things if you like, I like them to…”

    The reviewer obviously doesn’t like the logic of this film – what it represents, the culture surrounding it, the inaccessible and elusive ‘depth’ – so clearly he does not like ‘those things’ – or at least not the ones referred to predominantly in this film e.g.. adrenachrome.
    (But then who does?)

    “…but at least give me a story that I want to follow as well.”

    The reviewer clearly wants spoon-feeding at this point: this is a film to be watched, laughed at, torn apart, and contemplated. If you’re not down with the main premise, then don’t watch it: if you do watch it and you still don’t get it, don’t write a review about it! If you can’t follow the plot, don’t accuse the story of not wanting to be followed, as clearly the reviewers prejudices and lack of experience prohibit him from coming along for the ride.

    I shall end at the beginning with a quote from the reviewer:

    “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.”

    Why is it hard so hard to be objective? All that is required is that you strip away your prejudices and value judgements before putting pen to paper. Being objective is as much about realising your own faults/limitations as it is about finding faults/limitations within the artistic medium in question.

    One reason why this film is particularly hard to understand and be objective about (without relevant background) is the fact that it is rooted in Thompson’s own Gonzo philosophy: that the subjective experience of the storyteller is central to the story/narrative. (Kind of like quantum mechanics is to quantum theoreticians)

  2. April 7, 2009 at 3:40 am

    All the reasons you hate the fear and loathing are precisely the same reasons why people like me love the film. So at least Gilliam succeeded in that. Then it’s just down to whether you like or don’t like his decisions. I’ve realized not every movie has to have a story or character arc. Sometimes, films are just experiences.

  3. 3 haydenreviews
    April 7, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    A subjective review for a subjective movie, Mr. Gonzo.

    Your criticisms are as harsh as my review, and are well taken.


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