Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

It seems like Todd Phillips must really like some Hunter S. Thompson himself.

Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his Samoan lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), go on a three-day romp from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Motoring across the Mojave Desert on the way to Sin City, Duke and his purple haze passenger ingest a cornucopia of drugs ranging from acid to ether.

After seeing ‘The Rum Diary‘ for the bore that it was, I realized that I needed to see the one and only Depp and Thompson connection that everybody’s been talking about for so long. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

I haven’t really been all that familiar with a lot of Hunter S. Thompson‘s stuff but I can say that from what I know and hear, his shit is really crazy and out-of-this-world. This film is really freakin’ weird and it’s all about the insanely-real, and drug-influenced nightmares that go through this guy’s head when he’s taking LSD, coke, and some other crazy stuff that I didn’t even know existed. The whole film feels like a pretty long acid trip, which is much thanks to director Terry Gilliam.

Gilliam is great at these very eccentric and trippy set pieces that really get inside of your head and wonder just if what you are looking at is real, or all just a dream/imagination. Gilliam makes from what I hear pretty unfilmable stuff, and makes it damn realistic but not without making a lot of these drug-induced nightmares very funny and just very crazy to watch. Gilliam was the perfect choice for this type of film and even though this definitely isn’t the type of film that will make you wanna do some drugs, there is still a lot here that shows what it’s like to be on drugs and just how effed up your perception of reality can actually be.

The problem I think this film has is that a lot of the tone feels a bit uneven. Everything starts off all hilarious and very funny, without any type of real judgment on these dudes and all of the shameful things they do when they are completely drugged up, but that all starts to go away by the end of the film and that’s when it gets pretty dark. It blends right into this depressing kind of a film that doesn’t try to throw any messages about how “drugs are bad” at you, but to me, this still seemed a bit weird considering I spent the whole time just practically laughing at all these dudes.

I also feel like the film is a little too long and some scenes could have definitely been cut out, even though it seems like they were just going along with the material. The whole angle with the little, church girl seemed random and unneeded, and the diner scene where Gonzo totally gets big and nasty seemed very out-of-place for a film like this. It was a little too serious, a little too dark, and a little too sad to be placed in a movie where two guys are just tripped out the whole entire time.

Despite those little problems though, I still had a blast with this film, mainly because of the cast. Johnny Depp is the freakin’ man and totally crazy as Raoul Duke. Depp, as we all know, is perfect at playing these eccentric and cartoonish characters, and what he does here not only made me laugh but just watch his whole performance with happiness knowing just how great he really is with these sort of characters. Benicio del Toro is also totally convincing and crazy too as Dr. Gonzo. They are both great together and it’s funny how two completely different actors with two different styles, can come together on a film and just make everything seem like their having a great time with their roles.

Let me also not forget to mention that there are also tons and tons of cameos from a bunch of A-listers and random celebrities such as Ellen Barkin, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Flea, Lyle Lovett, Cameron Diaz, and even the man himself, Hunter S. Thompson. Oh and then there’s also Garey Busey, but he’s barely ever hard to miss in any film.

Consensus: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has its fair share of being too long and too uneven, but at other times, still has a direction from Gilliam that is beautifully trippy and inspired, and the cast just makes this whole bizarr-o film seem real without getting too serious.


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  1. The book had the same problem (although it only bothered me a little), which is logical seeing they barely changed anything. Still a really awesome film indeed, though. Also, Depp’s performance as Duke is even better if you ever saw/heard an interview with Thompson (Duke pretty much being his alter-ego), his impression is spot on. Nice review Dan.

  2. Dan glad you got to finally check this out. The Circus Circus still has that carousel bar that you can sit on but its kind of stuck in a kids arcade and not quite as cool as in the film. Still its worth a pilgrimage if you are in Vegas. Also as a fun side note I read where that Busey/Depp scene was ad libbed.
    After seeing this film do you think Rum Diary was better, worse or the same?

    • Rum Diary blew so much compared to this flick but they both seem to have a little bit of a problem with tone but still this kicks its ass. Thanks man!

  3. I haven’t seen this film for a very LONG time. I know I loved it at the time. But I think I may have been in a similar state as the man character watching it….So my memory fails me.

    Great review as ever my friend

  4. Great review. I really enjoyed it. It was always going to be a huge challenge to make a film that is such a similar rehashing of the book, but they got the right director in and pulled it off. I think i might have liked it more if it wasn’t my favourite book though.

  5. Nice work on the review. Not gonna lie…way back in 1999, I fell asleep in the middle of seeing this as a rental. When I woke up 30 minutes later, I felt like I hadn’t missed anything…I think I’m just not gonzo enough.

  6. This one was sitting on my to do list for ages, but when I finally got round to watching it I couldn’t work otu where I stood. It’s weird in a way that only Terry Gilliam can pull off, but I’m not sure there was enough of anything else to balance it out. I think I need to see it again to get a proper feel for it because a lot goes past you the first time, but to be honest I was a little disappointed that a film I’d heard so much about didn’t really seem to have mouch more to it than two very stoned guys falling about Las Vegas. And that’s coming from someone who never criticises anythign Johnny Depp does.

  7. I just saw this a couple weekends ago for the first time. I agree with your review – nice one by the way.

    I watched Brazil for the first time around the same weekend. Ever seen that? Another trippy Gilliam treat.

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