Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie poster
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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie poster

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Movie Synopsis & Plot

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1971

The United States of America.

It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times.

Nixon was still in the White House. America was still in Vietnam.

The year began with the aftershocks of the Beatles' break-up and a big earthquake in Southern California. It ended with Time naming President Richard Milhous Nixon "Man of the Year," depicted on the cover in the form of an angry, impatient papier-mache bust, a collage of scary headlines about the state of the union.

The '60s were over, pronounced dead at Altamont, a free Rolling Stones concert in a motor speedway outside San Francisco where a young black man was stabbed to death by Hell's Angels stage-center to the tune of "Sympathy for the Devil" (coming to a theatre near you in 1971 as "Gimme Shelter"). The peace, love and innocence of Woodstock were history.

Dead, too, were Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, three 27-year-old icons of rock 'n' roll, gone within the space of one year, all attributed to drug overdoses. In a secret meeting with President Nixon, Elvis Presley offered his personal services as an undercover narcotics agent.

Good news for many was the death sentence for Charles Manson and three of his girl-gang members for the Tate-LaBianca murders which had augured the apocalyptic end of flower power in 1969. The '60s idealism had fast turned to cynicism_was there another logical alternative?

Bad news for some was Daniel Ellsberg's guerrilla pacifist action, the leak of "The Pentagon Papers," classified information on the Department of Defense's operations in Vietnam, made public in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Later, we would learn of the bugging of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office by White House-directed "plumbers" and more devious "dirty tricks" applied to Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate.

The American dream was becoming a nightmare. For one very serious journalist, the only sane direction to go was straight over the top and call it "Gonzo."

For the 18th century poet, William Blake, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

For sportswriter Raoul Duke and his corpulent Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, the proud highway leads straight to Las Vegas in a mean crimson convertible dubbed "The Red Shark." Packing a trunkload of mind-bending pharmaceuticals along with an armory of herbal remedies, they're on a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream.

Duke may call it an assignment. Gonzo may believe it's a sacred mission to protect his client. Whatever "it" is, it's moving, and fast.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the classic 1971 novel by Hunter S. Thompson, has at long last been brought to the big screen by director Terry Gilliam, himself an audacious interpreter of 20th (and other) century manners in films like 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil and Time Bandits, as well as the epochal Monty Python series. The screenplay was written by Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni and Tod Davies & Alex Cox.

Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands) stars as Raoul Duke, Thompson's manic alter ego, and Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects, Basquiat) is Dr. Gonzo, his jurist sans prudence.

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