MRR Review: "For No Good Reason"

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Johnny Depp pays a visit to Ralph Steadman, the renown artist and the last of the original Gonzo visionaries who worked alongside Hunter S. Thompson.

Rating: R
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: April 25, 2014
Directed by: Charlie Paul
Genre: Documentary / Biography / History

Hunter S. Thompson, and his gonzo journalism aesthetic, has had a small but significant place in pop culture since the late 1960s. However, Thompson became an even more famous figure in the culture with the release of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in 1998. Based on his infamous 1971 book, "Fear and Loathing" was one of those adaptations where everything falls into place to bring a classic book to the screen, evidenced in the mind-bending cinematography and visual effects, the loopy and psychedelic direction of Terry Gilliam and the brilliant performance of Johnny Depp as Thompson.

Depp's performance was no mere fluke, the actor spent a good deal of time with the journalist and the two became close friends. He went on to portray Thompson again in 2011's "The Rum Diary," and in "For No Good Reason" acts as a sort of curator for a documentary on a name even more inextricably linked with Thompson, English artist Ralph Steadman. With Depp as host, "For No Good Reason" takes an unprecedented look at the life and style of Hunter S. Thompson's illustrator, with a number of other counterculture figures making appearances, including Jann Wenner and Terry Gilliam. Steadman's illustrations, which are abstract and complex yet primitive in a contemporary way, were a large part of the Hunter S. Thompson image.

There have been a wide range of famous figures to emerge from mid-to-late 20th century counterculture. Many of those once famous personalities have long since faded from the public consciousness, but a few have become even more celebrated, and more notorious, in the past couple of decades. Hunter S. Thompson is one of those figures, with a larger-than-life style that still looms large in contemporary journalism and literature. Thompson has been widely studied, analyzed and emulated by other writers, and portrayed by actors such as Bill Murray and Johnny Depp in Hollywood productions. There is no shortage of examination of the late journalist.

On the other hand, Ralph Steadman, the artist who helped inform public perception of Thompson's work and the aesthetic of movies such as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," has remained relatively anonymous in the film world. While most Thompson fans know who Steadman is, this documentary does seem long overdue.

Appropriately enough, the stars come out for "For No Good Reason." Johnny Depp, who is A-list all the way never shies away from his Hunter S. Thompson connection. He plays host with the feel of a curious documentarian as opposed to fawning fan. Even Depp's occasional narration of Thompson's writing is respectful and effective without being over the top.

However, the real documentarian here is director Charlie Paul. Surprisingly, "For No Good Reason" is Paul's first feature-length documentary. The assured direction and editing keep the audience engrossed and interested in a way indicative of a more experienced filmmaker. Although to be fair, the subject matter is especially fascinating, and Steadman has seemingly no qualms about opening up for the cameras. Fortunately, unlike some other documentary subjects, he is a lucid and engaging storyteller filled with an infectious enthusiasm. Steadman has no problem talking about his most famous art pieces, which are those associated with Hunter S. Thompson, as well as his more recent projects. It is again fortunate that the artist's work has evolved, and his lesser-known work is also fascinating, such as his bizarrely manipulated Polaroid photos, and his keenly original pieces inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci. There is even some talk about the technical side of Steadman's distinctive inkblot style, which helps adds depth and context.

Like many documentaries, parts of "For No Good Reason" are taken up by interviewees with first-hand knowledge of the subject. These interviews are even more entertaining and enlightening than usual. The fact "Rolling Stone" co-founder Jann Wenner and acclaimed director Terry Gilliam are both skilled orators helps, and the novel ways in which the interviews are presented are also a treat for viewers.

This production has apparently been in the works for over a decade, and the time that went into researching and editing archival footage is apparent.

While Ralph Steadman is best known for his Hunter S. Thompson connection, "For No Good Reason" is a multifaceted and always riveting look at both the most famous and lesser known of the artists works. It is advantageous for the filmmakers that Steadman is so forthcoming about his life and work, but what makes "For No Good Reason" really work the way it does is the superb direction and editing.