Adapting Hunter S Thompson’s category-defying book was always going to be a challenging experiment – even for the seemingly fearless maverick director Terry Gilliam (who replaced Alex Cox in pre-production). Ostensibly a warped record of Thompson’s bid to cover a motorcycle race forRolling Stone magazine, this is more an acid-addled, amphetamine-fuelled search for the American Dream. Thompson’s distinctive prose survives nearly intact, but, although Johnny Depp brings an amusingly effective twitchy energy to the role of Hunter’s alter ego, gonzo journalist Raoul Duke, this brave film falls just short of capturing the book’s errant vibrancy. The pace is a bit too fast to fully allow the audience to clamber on board, so one can only watch in bemused admiration as it zooms past.
This entertaining exercise in crash-bang policing comes from John Irvin, whose only previous action assignment was the less-than-inspiring Dogs of War. Fresh from the critically panned Red Sonja, Arnold Schwarzenegger was probably keen to get back to the old routine and here stars as an ex-FBI agent who goes undercover to nail a Chicago mobster (Sam Wanamaker). The film is populated with stereotypes and Arnie dispatches a great many bad guys with his usual lack of expression and a seemingly inexhaustable supply of bullets, but if you can suspend your disbelief you’ll have a ball.
Anne Hathaway, the doe-eyed star of The Devil Wears Prada, plays a believably self-absorbed addict in this lengthy and intense drama. Hathaway’s Kym is a bad girl released from rehab in order to attend her sister’s wedding. She’s been in recovery for years, and socialising nicely was never her strong suit, so when she descends on the celebration old resentments quickly surface. Director Jonathan Demme transforms what initially resembles a mock documentary into an unsettling tale that contains some very powerful scenes, as well as dark humour. Skilfully written by Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney), the story builds to a breathtaking climax in which Kym and her estranged mother (Debra Winger) confront each other, and the result is electrifying. Hathaway’s impressive performance clearly proves that she is more than just a pretty face.