UK Release date: 13th November 1998
Watched on Sky+ Sunday 4th December 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
This is one of those films that came across my radar several years ago but I never paid it much mind. However, when I discovered it was directed by Terry Gilliam I decided to put it on ‘The List’. These things take time, but eventually it bubbled up to the top and I finally got the opportunity for a viewing today. I must say it’s very strange, but at the same time it’s quite compelling. I will tell you more after this extremely brief summary.
This film charts the adventures of sports journalist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Dr Gonzo. They take a drug-fuelled trip (in more ways than one) to Las Vegas, initially, to cover a motorcycle race in the desert. Moving on to a conference on drug abuse, things descend into one crazy trip. I really can’t say much more about it, I guess the Spoiler Police will be pleased, but I must say it just one of those you have to see for yourself.
Full of great dialogue and also some great tunes of the day; I believe it is supposed to be set in 1971. The two central parts were played by Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr Gonzo; both did an excellent job. Some other well known actors made appearances; Tobey Maguire as the Hitchhiker, Ellen Barkin as the Waitress at North Star Café, Gary Busey as the Highway Patrolman, Christina Ricci as Lucy and Cameron Diaz as the Blonde TV Repoter.
I guess it is the narration that holds this film together; it draws you in with great descriptions of events, feelings, thoughts and the whole drug culture and the ‘American Dream’ thing. I thought it was brilliantly scripted. A very difficult piece to put on the screen but I thought Terry Gilliam was the perfect man for the job. It may not be as flamboyant as many of his works, but it most definitely has his stamp on it; particularly the ‘lizard’ scene. I usually don’t approve of films that depict drug use, but I will give this one a pass, mainly because it doesn’t go on to ‘glorify’ it. Over all, if a little long, I did enjoy this one very much… Recommended.
My score: 7.8/10.
IMDb Score: 7.6/10 (based on 103,670 votes at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Tomatometer’ Score: 48/100 (based on 50 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Audience’ Score: 90/100 (based on 246,898 user ratings counted at the time of going to press).
I guess that illustrates how wrong ‘critics’ can be sometimes.
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Raoul Duke: [narrating] We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like:
Raoul Duke: I feel a bit lightheaded. Maybe you should drive.
Raoul Duke: [narrating] Suddenly, there was a terrible roar all around us, and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, and a voice was screaming:
Raoul Duke: Holy Jesus. What are these goddamn animals?
[swatting the air]
Raoul Duke: Huh! Huh! Huh! Fucking pigs.
Dr. Gonzo: Did you say something?
Raoul Duke: Hm? Never mind. It's your turn to drive.
Raoul Duke: [narrating] No point in mentioning these bats, I thought. Poor bastard will see them soon enough.
Hitchhiker: I want you to understand that this man at the wheel is my attorney. He's not just some dingbat I found on the strip, man. He's a foreigner. I think he's probably Samoan. But that doesn't matter, though, does it? Are you prejudiced?
Hitchhiker: Hell no.
Raoul Duke: I didn't think so. Because in spite of his race, this man is extremely valuable to me. Oh, shit. I forgot about the beer. You want one?
Raoul Duke: How 'bout some ether?
Raoul Duke: Never mind. Let's get right to the heart of this thing. Twenty-four hours ago we were sitting in the Pogo Lounge of the Beverly Heights Hotel, in the patio section of course, drinking Singapore Slings with mescal on the side, hiding from the brutish realities of this foul year of Our Lord, nineteen-hundred and seventy one...
Raoul Duke: When I came to, the general back-alley ambience of the suite was so rotten, so incredibly foul. How long had I been lying there? All these signs of violence. What had happened? There was evidence in this room of excessive consumption of almost every type of drug known to civilized man since 1544 AD. What kind of addict would need all these coconut husks and crushed honeydew rinds? Would the presence of junkies account for all these uneaten french fries? These puddles of glazed ketchup on the bureau? Maybe so. But then why all this booze? And these crude pornographic photos smeared with mustard that had dried to a hard yellow crust? These were not the hoofprints of your average God-fearing junky. It was too savage. Too aggressive.