As expected, Hunter S. Thompson's 2005 suicide has been trailed by a glut of unauthorized bios and half-baked I-Knew-Hunter memoirs. I've read a lot of them, but Alex Gibney's stylish documentary is the first tribute done right. Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) doesn't bother trying to build myth or expound upon Thompson's personal life—which, of course, Thompson more than took care of during his lifetime. Gibney's doc succeeds because 1) he was given full access to Thompson's archives and the Owl Farm compound; 2) he doesn't drown the film with celebrity interviews; 3) he focuses on Thompson's body of work (not his love of booze and illegal weapons); and 4) he approaches his subject objectively, notlike some raving fanboy. Thompson aficionados will swoon upon hearing the actual conversations Thompson tape-recorded between himself and Oscar Zeta Acosta (aka "Dr. Gonzo") zipping across the desert in search of the American dream, as well as the tapes of him bickering with illustrator Ralph Steadman about attending the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire. The film gives equal play to Thompson's achievements and his failures; it veers off course only to follow his late-life cartoonish public persona. His first wife offers a chilling final word: Our current era of fear and loathing could use a voice like Thompson's more than ever. Anyone feel like picking up where he left off?
The doctor at work.
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., July 4. Rated R. 119 minutes.