When I spoke to Alex Gibney on April 8, 2008, the first question was the one that stuck with me from the minute I heard about this documentary. Where do you begin with a man who was larger than life, as was his writing? Gibney, with a succinct erudition, summed up his own struggle with that question. The conversation turned from the particulars and contradictions of Thompson’s life, to the unmitigated delight Gibney took in poring over the raw material of Thomson’s archives, to how the political climate of the United States and the world have and haven’t changed.
GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON is more than just a fascinating look at a man who was larger than life and who founded a style of personal journalism that endures to this day. It’s also an sharp appraisal of media as an entity that shapes, and is shaped by, the culture at large. With moving tributes by Johnny Depp. who played Thompson in an adaptation of the writer’s seminal work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and clips of Thompson himself being, well, Thompson, it’s full of suitably striking images, pugnacious ideas, and a wistful sadness that Thompson is no longer here to make us all so very nervous with his bombastic nature and even more bombastic way of telling the truth. At least as he saw it.
Gibney’s previous work include ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM about the hubris that took down that eponymous company, and the speed with which the Bush administration distanced itself from the scanda. and the Oscar(tm)-winning coc TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, about the incarceration, torture, and death of an innocent taxi driver by American forces in Afghanistan.