By: Terry Gilliam
A polarizing film, Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas takes on Hunter
S. Thompson's novel of the same name, successfully converting the counterculture
classic to the big screen without straying too far from the original ideas behind
the work. Based on his own experiences on two trips to Las Vegas with his attorney,
Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the tale of two men travelling to Las
Vegas to cover a motorcycle race for a magazine, but end up becoming sidetracked by
their rampant drug use and the situations that accompany it. After several failed
attempts to adapt this work into a film, Gilliam does what many others could not in
finding a way to portray the outrageous adventures of Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and
Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) in a movie.
Although the adaptation does an overall
good job in transitioning the book into film, Gilliam's version does have
shortcomings. Once the men arrive in Las Vegas the story becomes difficult to
follow, especially for those unfamiliar with the work. The characters' drug use
leads to a distorted reality, with the protagonists coming in and out of
hallucinogenic trips, making it difficult for the viewer to grasp what is actually
happening in the story. In these sequences some of Thompson's best rhetoric is lost
to wild scenery and undecipherable speech by Duke. Johnny Depp's accurate portrayal
of Thompson's alter ego has some drawbacks, as his speech difficult to understand a
lot of the time. Gilliam surely noticed this as a voiceover narrator is used
throughout the movie, keeping the audience from being completely lost at times.
Transforming this novel into a movie is no easy task, and Terry Gilliam makes a
valiant effort. The film certainly has it’s flaws, it is confusing at some points,
and sometimes feels like there is a lack of focus, but Gilliam excels in staying
true to the story. Big fans of Thompson's work can appreciate the fact that no
storylines were added for cinematics, and no major events were cut from the film.
Johnny Depp gives a great performance as Raoul Duke, effectively capturing the
quirks and personality that make him such a fascinating character. Terry Gilliam's
film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas delivers a satisfying production for
both old and new fans of the work.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Terry Gilliam. Universal Pictures, 1998. Film.
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas: A Savage Journey To The Heart Of The American Dream. 1971. New York: Random House
Inc, n.d. Print.
Reviewer: Matt Morales