Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film (2006) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for brief strong language and some drug content
Running Time: 77 min.


Cast: Nick Nolte (narrator), Hunter S. Thompson (archive footage), Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Anita Thompson, Gary Busey, John Cusack, George McGovern, Benicio Del Toro, Leonard Maltin, Tom Wolfe, William F. Buckley, Ed Bradley, F.X. Feeney, Gary Hart, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Tom Thurman
Screenplay: Tom Marksbury
Review published November 28, 2006

While there have been many things already written about the life of legendary author and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and many more to come, the documentary Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film offers a unique approach.  Produced for, and shown primarily on, the Starz channel, this feature documentary explores the life, as well as the death, of Hunter S. Thompson, in particular in how he was portrayed in several films that were made about him (most notably, Where the Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and also to the Hollywood artists that revered him as a brother in arms for the anti-establishment cause. 

Although the films are spotlighted, as well as some of the stars who appeared in them, Tom Thurman's documentary is surprisingly intimate, featuring rare personal footage and interviews, showing the public persona of Thompson, as well as a bit of his private life, particularly in how he affected others as a person, above and beyond just his written words.  Documentarian Tom Thurman provides an intimate backbone for his presentation through interviews between the close family and friends of Thompson, while shedding more light on how he has affected the film industry, both personally and professionally, through interviews with actors, writers, producers, and film critics, each offering their own unique perspectives on both the man and the legend, about what he meant to the nation as a whole, and also how he changed their personal lives in meaningful ways.

Thurman's documentary doesn't offer historical depth in any one particular area, but it does display quite a bit of breadth on the extent of his influence, and offers many interesting, informative tidbits about the life of Hunter S. Thompson that few would ever glimpse if only exposed to his writing or his public appearances.  From his troubled beginnings as a juvenile delinquent to his anguished final days, including his decades-old vision of how he wanted his funeral to be (his ashes shot from a cannon in the form of a two-thumbed fist), Buy the Ticket touches the important bases when it comes to capturing the spirit of the famed author, what drove him with such a passion, and why his maverick attitude about life, government, counterculture, and the underpinnings of American society would be so resonant among many important artists and writers, particularly in the filmmaking industry.

While it's a no-brainer to recommend Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride for fans of Thompson's work, for whom the rare footage of Thompson alone would merit a viewing, it is also recommended to anyone with a curiosity about this man with the enigmatic, sometimes larger-than-life personality.  It delivers a more human side to the public image of a wild, perverse journalist driven with a need for excess that not even he could live up to.  Ironically, even after his suicide, he is still injecting himself in the stories told by others. 

While it may not offer a complete testament on his life, Thurman's documentary does make for an essential companion piece for any collector of Thompson's works, both in film and in the written page, definitively capturing how one journalist's unique vision is still making ripples in an industry that has yet to cease in its fascination with the man, and the myth, that is Hunter S. Thompson. 

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo