2008 // USA // Alex Gibney // July 24, 2008 // Theatrical Print
B - My only previous experience with director Alex Gibney was Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, a slick, illuminating feature with an unfortunately tittering tone. Enron slimmed down Bethany McLean and Peter Elkin's dense chronicle of capitalism amok until it was undetectable. With Gonzo, Gibney seems to find material that works much better with his momentous and yet slightly mocking angle of attack. In this biographic sketch of "freak of letters" Hunter S. Thomspon, Gibney seems uncannily attuned to the grunting poetics of Thompson's typewriter, if a bit superficially dazzled by the man's insights. Johnny Depp assists with ripe narration of the journalist's words, which spatter into the film accompanied by crude, quirky visuals (occasionally far too literalist). Gibney mostly shies from anything mournful; even Thompson's suicide is addressed with a minimum of schmaltz. The portrait that emerges depicts a cowboy of social consciousness, the second coming of Mark Twain soured by aimlessness and self-doubt. Gonzo offers no trenchant revelations, and the relentless "It's Happening Again" political flourishes undercut its subtler intentions. Still, the films serves as a sort of flamboyant, seductive crash course that will inspire newcomers to seek out Thompson's work.