Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

>> Tuesday, February 13, 2007

USA/C-119m./Dir: Terry Gilliam/Wr: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Tod Davies, & Alex Cox /Cast: Johnny Depp (Raoul Duke), Benicio Del Toro (Dr. Gonzo), Christina Ricci (Lucy), Tobey Maguire (Hitchhiker)

Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was critically reviled upon its release, but it’s hard to imagine anyone producing a better film version of the groundbreaking book. The movie stars Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, Thompson’s hyper-exaggerated version of himself, and Benicio Del Toro as Duke’s menacing, possibly-Samoan lawyer. The drunken, drug-addled pair road trip to Vegas when journalist Duke is asked to cover a desert motorcycle race, only to find, through a haze of sand and hallucinogens, that they’ve traveled into the black heart of the “American Dream.”

The critics were right in stating that the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is noisy, rambling, and excessive, but then again, so was the book. In fact, intemperance, greed, and personal gratification are what the piece is all about. Hunter was arguing that those narcissistic values are what truly lie at the core of the “American Dream.” The drug-addled hedonists at the center of the story are no worse (or no better) than the middle-class hoards that come to Vegas to try to get rich quick and debauch. The film succeeds both as a hilarious shaggy dog story--because no one could actually ingest as many weird chemicals as Duke does and live, let alone write--and as a sad commentary on the failure of 60’s drug culture and American society as a whole.

Depp and Del Toro masterfully disappear into their roles, and Gilliam’s psychotically psychedelic visuals add to the fun. Best of all is the script, which wisely lifts much of the dialogue and narration word-for-word from the original text of the book, because no performance or special effect could ever be as wild as Thompson’s own gonzo prose. Of course, this is really more of a drug movie than a booze movie, but there is also plenty of liquor in evidence. After all, you have to use something to wash down the pills.

Drinks Consumed--Beer, rum, tequila, Singapore Slings (gin, Benedictine, cherry brandy, and pineapple juice) and various unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Drunk driving, staggering, stumbling, vomiting, passing out, memory blackouts, public disturbance, and destruction of property

Potent Quotables
--RAOUL DUKE: Those of us who’d been up all night were in no mood for coffee and donuts. We wanted strong drink. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the national sporting press.

Video Availability--Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas DVD (Criterion)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Johnny Depp revisited the world of Hunter S. Thompson in Bruce "Withnail & I" Robinson's adaptation of The Rum Diary.


Anonymous May 20, 2009 at 12:45 PM  

I can't even count how many times I've watched this movie. Probably every other day for the last year or so. Still haven't gotten bored. Probably because I am drunk myself every time I watch it.

Shaun February 21, 2012 at 9:40 PM  

This was one of the best movies based off a book that I have ever seen. Depp and Del Toro totally lost themselves in the characters they were playing, and the roles were truly convincing. This is one of those movies that are always at the top of the list of most popular movies in my books, and it shows with as often as I watch it. There have been too many times have I seen this movie with friends that can’t be quiet and enjoy the movie, so when I saw it on the Cinemax page of DISH online, I took the opportunity to put my headphones on and enjoy one of the best movies to come out of the 90’s. This movie was also the first time the self proclaimed movie nerd I work with at DISH didn’t actually fight with me about a movie being good. February 19, 2013 at 7:49 AM  

Terry Gilliam at his best. Really good movie.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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