Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) is the kind of film you could describe as a terrible trip. It’s essentially adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 Gonzo Tome. The film depicts the era after the war of Vietnam. It is a time when the many died, and the future is uncertain. The film depicts the days after this era, a time when many were lost and had no idea what to do – the foul year of our Lord as Thompson called it.
In the film, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) plays Thompson, while Benicio Del Toro plays Dr. Gonzo. According to Duke’s narration, the opening scene shows a Red Shark swerving along the road somewhere between Vegas and L.A. This is when the effects of drugs took control and never let go.
At this point, the director sets the camera as the third individual in the scene involving Gonzo and Duke. It’s reeling, distorting, and vibrating in tandem with the drugs takes them and the audience deeper into their messed up state.
Nearly every minute, we see something jump off the screen. It’s one colossal mess, and one is left wondering whether there ever will be a straight point from which to look at things much more quietly. This makes the film chaotic but still interesting to watch. In the film, Del Toto weighs 40 lbs. extra and is funny. He is cast as a bloated, drug-using legal counsel. And like many antagonistic films, this one is all about Duke and Gonzo attempting to kill each other with hunting knives, shower curtain rods, and guns.
Perhaps the best magnet in this film is Johnny Depp’s character, who is the story’s antic, a seductive and repulsive spirit. As bad as he sounds, he is excellent to watch. In the film, he has the crown of his head shaved right above its trademark amber shade. The bow-legged struts, coupled with a throaty monotone, give him the appearance of a man channeling Hunter Thompson’s spirit.
Credit goes to Nicola Pecorini, director of photography. Through the director’s work, it feels like we are watching the film from outside and inside of Duke’s bloody, mucous flecked cranium. What gives the fi credence is the very thing that gave the book adapted from readership – the sense that Gilliam has total control over the medium while also surrendering himself to unknown forces outside of his control.
The magic that Gilliam casts deft and compelling and does a great job setting up the context upon which Gonzo and Duke do their theatrics. With a light touch, the director does a good job giving the audience a sneak peek into the drug-infested world of Las Vegas as a reminder that the journey into the 21st century has been atrocious and frenzied.
That said, this film is nowhere near Where the Buffalo Roam in terms of hilarity, and visually, it needs more work. It’s not clear what Thompsons would think if he had the chance to watch this film.