In 1965, Hunter S. Thompson made a name for himself by riding with, writing about, and eventually pissing off the Hells Angels, an often-vicious biker gang. Then he decided to live on the edge. Through studious drug use, a finely honed sense of black comedy, and highly subjective—and frequently fantasy-prone—reporting, Thompson created a journalistic subgenre called "gonzo" that sought a deeper truth than could be achieved by traditional means. Frank Mankiewicz, the campaign manager for George McGovern's 1972 Democratic presidential run, described Thompson's work as "the most accurate and least factual account" of the election season. No doubt Thompson took that as a compliment.
Apart from a handful of re-creations and lots of excerpts from Thompson's writing, read by Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam's film Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and remained a close friend of Thompson's), Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson takes a fairly straightforward approach to its subject. Maybe too straightforward: Director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Taxi To The Dark Side) mostly alternates between talking heads and archival footage, and even uses two Credence Clearwater Revival songs and The Youngbloods' "Get Together" to establish the period.
It's more Thompson-for-beginners than an exhaustive inquiry, but as introductions go, it's thorough and thoughtful. Thompson was the rare man whose life drew affectionate tributes from Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Buffett, and Pat Buchanan. Like the film, they all admire Thompson's fearlessness without soft-selling his flaws. Apart from some kind words about the Bush-enraged writing of his final years, no one has much to say about Thompson's work from the mid-'70s on, when the mere act of being Hunter S. Thompson—the outrageous, gun-toting, drug-crazed character who happened to write—became a full-time job. Even in his decline, however, he remained admirably committed. He carved out a piece of America all his own, and stayed there until he didn't want to stick around anymore.