Breakfast with Hunter
Directed by Wayne Ewing
Starring: Hunter S. Thompson, John Cusack, Johnny Depp, P.J. O'Rourke
Running Time: 91 minutes
They say that documentaries live or die based on their subject, and that is especially the case when it comes to cinema verite. While the director does exercise certain control over the film's look or feel and the editing process, he has little control over the actual content in the film. For the most part, the director has to pick an interesting enough subject and hope that something entertaining will happen to them. Wayne Ewing picked a terrific subject in Hunter S. Thompson, but showed that a great subject does not guarantee a great film.
In case you've been asleep for the past thirty-five years or so, Hunter S. Thompson is the famed author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, and most recently Kingdom of Fear. He has written for numerous publications, including Rolling Stone and ESPN. Through Thompson's writing, he has established himself as the ageless hipster, the spokesperson for America's counterculture, the rebel outlaw trying to shake up the system, and practically the poster boy for recreational drug use in America. He's cooler than cool and has the books, the feature film and now the documentary to prove it. There are few individuals in America, or maybe even on the planet, who are nearly as colorful, energetic, and of course controversial than Hunter.
Breakfast with Hunter takes place during 1996 and 1997, and focuses partly on the two most significant events in Hunter's life at the time, an impending DUI trial in Aspen and the upcoming film project for his classic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Most of the scenes, however, are five minute random slices of his life, ranging from him cooking breakfast on the farm, to his trying to teach Johnny Depp's bird how to talk.
We are supposed to get bite-sized tastes of Hunter's life, but most of the scenes seem to celebrate his celebrity rather than provide any insight into his life or personality. There are too many scenes where time is spent making speeches in his honor, reading passages from his book, or just namedropping celebrities or famous figures that he encounters. Instead of a penetrating picture of his life, we are left with an adulatory look at his character. In most scenes, he seems all too aware that the cameras are there, and he subsequently postures for them, which gives the film a superficial feel. Not surprisingly, the most engaging scenes of the film are when he reveals a side that someone might not otherwise see, such as the scene where he argues with Alex Cox, the first director assigned to his film project. Instead of continuing in this direction, they revert to making Hunter look cool, this time by watching a video of the same scene, laughing at how harsh he was.
Hunter himself is what makes this film worth watching, just because he is such a fascinating human being. His inarticulate and playful manner gives the movie some charm, which partly makes up for its lack of substance. He makes us laugh when he goes crazy with a fire extinguisher in Rolling Stone headquarters, or shows off his talent for throwing whiskey. He is a genuinely likeable guy and a pleasure to watch, most of the time.
Breakfast for Hunter is currently making its rounds on the festival circuit, and there may be a theatrical release in its future. If you can't wait, however, the DVD is already available from the website, and its loaded with special features.