Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Where The Buffalo Roam - A Movie Based On The Twisted Legend Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Where The Buffalo Roam: A Movie Based On The Twisted Legend Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Forever destined to be known as the ‘other’ Hunter S. Thompson movie this was released in 1980, with Bill Murray as the gonzo journalist, and is a completely different beast to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Firstly, this is an episodic piece about Thompson himself, and not an alter-ego. Secondly, it’s not got very much going for it.

Essentially a series of vignettes based on Thompson’s life and work in the 60s and 70s, there’s very little plot to speak of other than the through-line of Thompson and his relationship with his lawyer Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle). It’s a biopic of sorts which seeks more to give a flavour of Thompson than provide a compelling narrative.

Bill Murray holds the film together with his portrayal of someone so idiosyncratically iconic. He has everything nailed from the speech patterns to the poise and imbues the character with the spirit of the late author. There’s a distinct lack of Murray’s trademark wisecracks and even the laconic charm he usually displays is replaced with a quiet mania.

The era and counterculture it depicts is hugely interesting and rife with material but the film never moves beyond the most cursory glances in that direction. Every time something of interest appears, such as the events of Richard Nixon’s campaign trail, the fractured nature of the film ensures that it has moved on before it’s ever properly explored. Instead it’s fixated on the enigmatic Lazlo who appears throughout the film and, despite a solid performance from Boyle, serves as a diversionary device attempting to link all the different chapters.

Where the film succeeds to an extent is in capturing the essence of the erratic nature of Thompson’s work. It never hangs together as a film but in the midst there are some nice moments. Its biggest failing is that the style never suits the material. Despite the fact that so much of the film is focused on drugs and excess, it’s lacking a hallucinatory element of vice and doesn’t contain a modicum of the visual verve of Fear And Loathing. The intensely static feel just doesn’t befit the drug-addled counterculture it depicts.

It’s certainly sporadically entertaining, helped along in large part by the performances and a stripped down, plaintive Neil Young score but for the most part it’s painfully slow.

The individual elements of plot are definitely in-keeping with the spirit of the texts but they’re occasionally deathly dull. If it made the transition to screen with even an ounce of the energy of the source material, this should never have been the case.


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