Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson 

Three and a half stars (R)

I can hear the wild dogs outside — judging from the sounds they’re making, it appears they can sense that they’ll soon gain access to the building and the fresh meat inside. I’ve been holed up here for years, ever since my brain cracked, but supplies are running low. I had an arrangement worked out that allowed me to earn enough scratch to pay for grub along with boards and nails, but tough times are cutting the dollars down to cents. So here I sit, in my favorite room of my favorite place, waiting for the hounds to come crashing in. The wind is howling almost as loud as the beasts. The situation is dire and I, in my addled state, can’t piece together an escape plan. You’d think it would be simple. I seem so competent.

Hunter S. Thompson made it easy for men like me. Gonzo journalism, it was dubbed in 1970, to describe an article written by Thompson. Gonzo journalism, where the reporter is often part of the story, where the writing is subjective and paragraphs like the previous one don’t even raise an eyebrow. Gonzo writers can say anything they want — actually, it’s part of the job description. Outrage is job one. Thompson’s coverage of George McGovern’s 1972 run for the presidency was described glowingly as “the most accurate and least factual” of any journalist. God, who wouldn’t want to be described that way?

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is an attempt by director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) to share the Thompson experience with others. Gibney makes great films and Gonzo is a good one — spotty, a bit windy in the middle, but well worth a look. Hard-core Thompson fans may consider it too obvious, but they’ll want to see it anyway because that’s how “hard-core” works.

For others, the film is a well-presented reminder of how much Thompson shook things up, of how far he rose with his balls-out approach and how badly he crashed when he ran out of juice. Should I recount his career? Surely you know about his embedded stint with the Hell’s Angels, the Fear and Loathing rantings, the run for sheriff of Aspen, his infamous un-coverage of the Ali/Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Thompson came down with a splat. Fame sucked most of the oxygen out of the room. Doonesbury turned him into a cartoon. He crossed the line between larger-than-life counter-culture hero and paranoid, drug-addled crank, crossed back, then back again. Surely you know how it all ended, but just in case, I won’t describe it here.

Johnny Depp, who starred in the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, narrates the documentary. Thompson’s first wife, Sandy, second wife Anita and son Juan provide details on life at home. Others appearing include Hell’s Angel Sonny Barger, Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, George McGovern, Ralph Steadman, Jann Wenner and Jimmy Buffett.

Gonzo is about as comprehensive a film about Hunter S. Thompson as you could hope to have. It’ll make you want to sit down and write about true things in a colorful, indulgent, subjective way, like I did a few hundred words ago. Dogs. Desperation. Oh shit ...

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