Something about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has always piqued my interest. I was far too young to watch it when it first came out, but of course that didn’t make it any less intriguing to me. Now that I’ve actually seen it, I feel like I might never be old enough for this film. Whatever the case may be, this clearly is not a movie for me. Being the straight-laced, drug-free guy that I am, I feel like it’s hard for me to give a proper assessment of this movie, but I’ll give it my best shot.
First and foremost, I should state that I don’t typically watch these type of stoner movies. I’ve never seen more than a couple minutes of Half Baked, or Pineapple Express, or Cheech and Chong, or the like. Those kind of movies just don’t interest me. What made Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas different and appealing to me was its silliness and its impressive visual and artistic style. It looked like a truly unique experience, and in truth it is one, though it’s not exactly pretty.
I actually read a good portion of the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a few years ago and I was really enjoying it until loads of schoolwork got in the way. That makes it all the more surprising how much I disliked the film, considering it actually seems like an admirably faithful adaptation.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a film based on the novel written by famed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson that was inspired by his trip to Las Vegas in the early 1970s with his good friend and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta. It’s an exaggerated tale of their exploits in Vegas, written under the character names of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, where Thompson was reporting on an annual off-road racing event known as the Mint 400. What ultimately ensues, however, is an excursion of increasingly excessive drug use and debauchery.
The film follows Raoul and Gonzo on their wacky, drugged-out adventure through Las Vegas, and their exploits become more sadistic and haunting as time goes on. From hotel room antics, to major drug binges, and even kidnapping, Raoul and Gonzo stir up a whirlwind of trouble but somehow they miraculously continue to evade the consequences through ingenuity and sheer luck. It feels like there’s never a moment in the film when these two junkies aren’t busy taking some sort of drug. They refuse to get off their high and eagerly go from one drug to the next. It’s an exhausting and tiresome experience just to watch, and I found it to be far more sad than funny.
The movie tries to present itself as a comedy, but apart from an unexpected grapefruit to the head, I don’t think I ever laughed. It has a very offbeat approach to humor. The disappointing thing about it is that I actually found the novel itself to be rather amusing. I suppose sometimes things are just better left to be read than visually seen, as the story and characters are far funnier on the written page than they are in the movie. No matter how comical and ridiculous they might act, it’s hard to laugh at them given their state of being. There’s something about watching this pair of violent, narcissistic degenerates that’s deeply unsettling and unfunny to me. It would be easier to laugh at them if I could brush them off as being idiots, but I can’t because frankly they’re not. These are two very intelligent characters who just happen to be constantly stoned out of their minds by their own volition.
With all that said, I do think that both Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro give really strong performances as Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo. Both of them really seem to embrace their roles and have a fun time with reveling in the absurdity of these characters and their actions. Therefore any grievances I have with the film are no fault of their own. For the most part, they’re just bizarre and silly and deranged. Personally, I felt as though Johnny Depp was essentially channeling Jim Carrey in his attempt to be comical. The key difference being that I never found Depp to be all that funny, yet I think the darker and more twisted tone of the film is more to blame for that.
At the very least, I can commend director Terry Gilliam for crafting a highly creative and unique picture. With all of their drug binging, the characters experience a plethora of hallucinations, making it a goldmine for creative visualization. The style, the sets, and the cinematography are particularly noteworthy. There are several well-realized, iconic shots throughout, yet it’s not always appealing to look at, as it descends from the glitzy, glorious lights of the Vegas strip into a dark, disgusting, and grungy nightmare. It’s a social commentary on the disillusionment of this so-called American dream. Perhaps that explains the film’s overall pinkish hue, as if it is sarcastically showing you the story through rose-colored glasses.
In short, while I can respect the artistic representation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it most certainly does not mean that I also have to enjoy it, nor that I would recommend it. This is a film only for the most adventurous and daring of movie viewers. It’s likely to be too trippy and twisted for your average person, but those of you who are open to an unabashed, immoral, artsy acid trip of a movie might just like it more than I did.
There’s no denying the talents of Ethan and Joel Coen. These Academy Award winning brothers have written and directed an extraordinary body of work, most notably including No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo. Their names alone are enough to get me excited about a movie, as they are practically synonymous with quality. Such was the case with their latest film Hail, Caesar! which boasts a robust and talented cast. Regrettably, even with the skill of the Coen Brothers, impressive production values and all of the big names attached, Hail, Caesar! is a long, and often arduous affair. Much like the film’s movie within a movie, from which Hail, Caesar! gets its name, it has all the right pieces for success, but still ultimately fails to satisfy or even thoroughly entertain.
The film stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, the head of production for Capital Pictures, which was a premier movie studio in a fictional 1950’s Hollywood. Mannix spends his days tirelessly working to keep the studio’s reputation picture perfect, despite a plethora of problems that exist beneath the surface. When the company’s biggest movie star Baird Whitlock, as played by George Clooney, is suddenly kidnapped for ransom by a mysterious group known only as The Future, it’s up to Mannix to keep the incident under wraps while trying to rescue his prized star.
On top of Baird’s abduction, Mannix is also dealing with protecting the pristine image of famed actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who is pregnant out of wedlock, appeasing acclaimed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) whose lead role has been horribly miscast, and fending off a feverish pair of twin reporters (Tilda Swinton) who have become aware of Baird’s absence, all while facing the pressure of an alluring new job opportunity. If you’re gasping for air after that overly long sentence, just imagine how Mannix must feel with all of that on his plate. Yet he takes it all on like the consummate professional (well, apart from his tendency to smack people around).
Given the busy nature of Hail, Caesar! as it encompasses the hustle and bustle of a major Hollywood studio, in addition to a star-studded kidnapping and Communist conspiracy, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with the majority of the film’s characters. Yet despite many of them being little more than one-and-done roles, the characters themselves are still mainly quite good. Additionally, as expected, the performances by this blockbuster cast are commendable, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of them award worthy.
Josh Brolin gives a respectable performance in his starring role, showing that Mannix is a reputable man of action and taking care of business. Relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich is a show-stealer as Hobie Doyle, the beloved western movie star with exceptional agility and lasso skills but no discernible acting talent. Doyle is helplessly and comically clueless as he finds himself placed in the lead role of a serious drama. Ralph Fiennes plays Hobie’s director in this film and he struggles to keep his composure while instructing him in one of the movie’s more memorable scenes.
Tilda Swinton excels in her double performance as self-centered journalist sisters. Scarlett Johansson does an admirable job portraying the double-sided nature of her character, who is presented as a silver screen darling, despite being a foul-mouthed broad. Channing Tatum leads a catchy homoerotic song and dance number in what is probably the best sequence of the movie. Lastly, of course, is George Clooney as the iconic but somewhat idiotic Baird Whitlock who does a decent job but ultimately has little to work with.
The comedy in Hail, Caesar! is mildly amusing at best. It musters a few smirks but never got any real laughter out of me. I can admire some of the attempts at humor, but they still left much to be desired, just like the majority of the film itself. Frankly I found the whole experience of watching Hail, Caesar! to be predominantly boring. The story isn’t especially interesting and the conflicts, including the kidnapping caper, are disappointing. For a movie that’s trying to bring life to the good old days of cinema, it sure makes them look dull.
5 Minute Movie Guy
I'm just a movie crazed dude, with a love for Tom Cruise.