Fear and Loathing in Aspen Review

Wild-eyed freak power made itself known in a small city of America in 1970. Hunter S. Thompson, the late writer and creator of Gonzo-style journalism, was at the heart of it all. To write Gonzo is to blur the real and the fictional, and that is something those who have adapted his life and works to the screen have struggled to do ever since the 1980s first tried it. Fear and Loathing in Aspen is just another struggling storyline that picks apart a little line from the life of a great and varied writer. Bobby Kennedy III adapts and directs this pocket of Thompson’slife with the surprise and gusto brought about in other adaptations of this man’s life, but without the essential visual experience that Terry Gilliam defined with this odd world.

Jay Bulger makes Thompson his own, reigning in the drug-fuelled beast as best he can. Fear and Loathing in Aspen grants audiences the chance to see an infamous part of Thompson’s life, the time he ran for Mayor of his beloved Aspen. But there are only so many cutaways to smoking and swearing that can define a character. Where Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had a goal and a literal destination, Fear and Loathing in Aspen merely has an open ambition. Thompson wishes to run for mayor, not just to see if the public will elect a man wishing to rename the town “Fat City,” but also to identify the freaks and weirdos who would soon be running the show. Six years after his failed run at the mayoral candidacy, a close friend of Thompson took over. If that is the legacy Kennedy III wishes to leave, then he forgets to mention it.

But the audience wishing to delve into this is the Thompson fans themselves. No stranger will wander into this one, and if they do, they must be thoroughly confused. Kennedy III does a decent job of portraying the snooty-nosed qualities of the town around Thompson, but as Thompson chants “I could be Muhammad Ali,” and stokes a fire in his home, Kennedy III confuses the influences on Thompson’s writing with the heroes he held. To his credit, much of Fear and Loathing in Aspen fills in blanks that have been around for decades, but surely the ambiguous alternative to what Kennedy III offers here would be better? Bright shirts, bringing up Jann Wenner and everyone vaguely associated with Thompson, it works. Or, at least, it would if it weren’t for the random crash zooms and editing styles.

A love for the writer will buoy many of the issues found within, but Fear and Loathing in Aspen toys with fiction too often, laying out the few facts it can with a swift and forgettable earnestness. Audiences will find comfort in Bulger and Kennedy, but the likeness falls more to caricature than characteristics of Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Aspen relies on cheap gags and quick-cut editing more often than not, but it never revels in the bizarre qualities of the man at the centre of it all. Reigning in some of the wilder styles Thompson would soon adapt to his work, and replacing it with styles that do not suit what audiences may know of him, this feature comes from a place of love but does not quite capture the ethics and sudden wave Thompson brought with his candidacy for Mayor of Aspen.

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