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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – Movie Review

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie poster art

Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by Alex Cox, Tod Davies, Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni, based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson
Starring Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Cameron Diaz

My Advice: Don’t Miss It.

How odd that the first film I’ve designated with “Don’t Miss It” this year and the first film rife with Oscar-worthy stuff I’ve seen this year probably won’t get a single nod. Hollywood’s funny/stupid that way. Let me go ahead and say up front that some people probably shouldn’t see this film, despite my “Don’t Miss It” verdict. Those are the people who didn’t like the book, people who have no idea what Thompson or the book is like, and people who think that any film that has drugs in it condones illegal drugs. It’s a film that will give a strong reaction: love or hate, seldom an in-between. That having been said, this film is a trip–no pun intended.

[ad#longpost]Basically, it’s two guys in a convertible going to Las Vegas to take an inordinate amount of illegal substances under the pretense of doing journalism. Right. Depp (who is one of the most whacked-out versatile actors out there) is absolutely dead-on as Thompson’s alter ego, Raoul Duke. His balding, cigarette holder-chomping bat-fearing caricature is absolutely hilarious. Del Toro is unrecognizable as Duke’s attorney, Dr. Gonzo, and just as monstrously hysterical. A scene between the two that ends up in a bullhorn/mace face-off is quite amusing.

The cameos are many and sundry (Michael Jeter as a drug expert, Busey as a very lonely cop, and Barkin as a put-upon waitress) but it’s the two leads that carry you through the film’s disturbing ride. Gilliam is to be praised for creating a direct adaptation of the work and not watering down any of the bizarre hallucinatory adventures, including an entire bar whose patrons have morphed into refugees from the Dinosaurs sitcom. Not to mention the greatest meta moment in cinema this year, when Raoul Duke literally meets his maker.

They set out to do a straight adaptation of the book, and they did–and go figure, it worked. If only other moviemakers were listening/watching/reading. Sigh.

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