Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride is not nearly as personal as Breakfast with Hunter, nor is it as legacy-based as When I Die or Free Lisl! Instead, Writer Tom Marksbury and Director Tom Thurman focus almost entirely on the films on and about Thompson, while giving a solid background on the man himself, both what is ultimately depicted in these films and what is not.
To this end, the Tom-Tom Club interviews more people that could fit on the whole Owl Ranch (or at least in Hunter's red Convertible). Obvious choices for this are Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro and Bill Murray. Gary Busey adds a hilariously obtuse interview also, while John Cusack, Harry Dean Stanton and Sean Penn offer up heart-felt remembrances. From the writing and journalism side, Ed Bradley, William F. Buckley, and Tom Wolfe speak not only to the life and death of the man, but also an author's view on his processes and his mind. On the political side, Gary Hart and George McGovern pop up for a left wing and a prayer. Anita Thompson (the wife), Juan Thompson (the son), Laila Nabulsi (the producer/ friend) and Ralph Steadman (the artist/ friend) delve into the personal and private Hunter. Still, notably missing are interviews with Peter Boyle (who was still alive at the time of this filming, but appears only in archival footage here) and Terry Gilliam, the director that helped bring him to life (in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
In truth, as good of a film as this is (and, even with the Leonard Maltin appearance, I think this is), it's easy to see what is missing here. After a cursory (but welcome) informative on Hunter growing up (and some incidentals about his career) we jump almost immediately into discussions on Where the Buffalo Roam. Admittedly this does give us a good look at Hunter (as filtered through Bill Murray), but we do miss a good bit of the man. Immediately after that, we're thrust into a look at Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a film that was released eighteen years after Where the Buffalo Roam. Again we learn more about Hunter from commentaries surrounding this part of the film, but the focus still feels to be on Thompson-by-way-of-Depp than it is on Thompson. Soon after that we jump right into the details surrounding "The Gonzo Monument" (as depicted in When I Die). Fortunately, there is a bit more from the people who were at Hunter's funeral (particularly Depp) than we received in When I Die, bu tthe pace is a bit strange. Throughout it all, we're given interesting cut-away archival interviews with Hunter S. Thompson as he comments on his life and on himself... and on America. Still, while the two (to date) "fictional" films on Hunter are given good introductions and exposure, the documentary footage used here is barely referenced as non-original.
The good things about this documentary are missed by a lot of viewers, however. Though it may not be perfect, the film focuses on Hunter through the lens of film and through the filters of those who knew him. In some ways the "Character" of Hunter S. Thompson, which the interviewees tell us was not always the same as the "Man", is more of the focus than Hunter himself. However, from what we can tell about both the Man and the Character, this might well be a good focus and might just be one of MANY things Hunter would appreciate.
This may be a digest of the history of Hunter S. Thompson, from a certain, pre-set point of view, but this Starz documentary will leave the viewer with a deeper knowledge of many of the many facets of H.S.T. than they had before. If nothing else, this entertaining and interesting (yet somewhat limited) documentary will beckon viewers toward at least Where the Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which, in turn, will beckon those viewers to read the stories those films are based on. In that respect, we're looking at a success of a documentary.
Three and One Half Stars out of Five for Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film! It might not be the Whole Story, but, then again, when did Hunter ever give us the whole story either? Usually, we got what he wanted us to see... and always left us wanting more. The deepest tributes are from those deeply moved by his suicide, yet still admiring this in some ways. His death was a well-planned, well-thought-out decision, brought about by some debilitating health problems. The Man controlled the Character... right up until the bitter end. Should you buy the ticket and take the ride? Absolutely. Just be aware that this film should be your starting point, not your final word. See you in the next reel, Gonzo.
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