Following the oral biography Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson by Rolling Stone honcho Jann Wenner comes yet another project that exists precisely because the infamous journalist no longer does, having silenced his inner demons with a handgun at age 67. "He had known for a long time that he was no longer a really good writer," is the first voiceover heard, in fact, right before the camera lingers over Thompson's empty desk, his eerily prophetic 9/11 piece for ESPN.com predicts the military hellfire we'd be in nearly seven years later, and cohort illustrator Ralph Steadman unveils some of his final Thompson renderings for the first time ever.
For viewers being introduced to Thompson, the documentary is a wild ride indeed, skimming his childhood but digging in as the guns-'n'-drugs fiend rolls with the Hells Angels, hunkers down in 1960s San Francisco, barely survives the '68 Democratic National Convention, campaigns for sheriff in Aspen, fears and loathes in Las Vegas, despises Nixon, endorses McGovern and eventually lets fame get the best of him and, far worse, his writing. The period from '74 until his early 2005 death gets little play, but what a death, funeral and ashes-scattering it is. For serious devotees, meanwhile, it's all in the small touches: original Hells Angels and Vegas audio recordings, highly personal home videos (including a glimpse of Keith Richards entering Thompson's Woody Creek, Colorado, cabin), a vintage commercial for the then-advanced Mojo Wire machine (an early fax) and Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money" playing over the credits. No footage of Thompson's 2003 CineVegas appearance, sadly, but who knew he originally wanted to be a photojournalist or was so tight with Jimmy Buffett?
The film could stand to ease up on the clownish re-creations and overt political agenda, but the soundtrack is top-notch, and interviews with the likes of Tom Wolfe, Wenner, Johnny Depp and a wide array of politicos overwhelmingly prove that Thompson's legacy of publicly stumping for change was unparalleled. It's simultaneously infuriating, bittersweet and hopeful, and though its central figure may be gone, Gonzo offers something of him for everyone.