Featuring Ralph Steadman, Johnny Depp, and Hunter S. Thompson. Rating unavailable.
Of all the documentaries I’ll highly recommend this year, For No Good Reason just may be the worst. Fortunately, subject Ralph Steadman is far more than a mere cartoonist—as he keeps asserting. His messy, violent, and brilliantly composed lines on paper capture cutting truths about our times, often doing so better than news and editorial coverage.
Still, it’s the marriage of Steadman’s images to others’ words that has made his work so penetrating. His long association with Hunter S. Thompson, beginning with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in 1971, brought Steadman’s splattery illustrations to public attention. And the English artist did many illustrations for Rolling Stone in the 1970s, memorably skewering Richard Nixon in the Watergate era. But his long association with Thompson’s self-centred, drug-addled brand of gonzo journalism is remembered best, or most avidly, anyway.
With a title referring to one of Thompson’s typically nihilist statements, For No Good Reason was directed by first-timer Charlie Paul, who spent about 15 years on the project. It shows. From the pop-culture warehouse displayed at the start to the often pointlessly animated montage sequences—underscored by atrocious indie-rock music with zero connection to the subject matter—the filmmaking betrays an almost fatal lack of confidence in the potency of Steadman’s work. There’s also an over-reliance on the Thompson connection—which brought out the worst in each, as well as the best—and with ciggy-puffing Johnny Depp, who keeps showing up on-screen, pace the title.
The movie climaxes with a long sequence focusing on Steadman’s most vehemently antiauthoritarian images—some repeated to blunting effect. All this frenetic nonfocus comes at the expense of time spent with the artist’s wittier and more delicate work, some in the vein of Edward Sorel. We learn almost nothing about his childhood or his inner yearnings. Still, despite the director’s considerable efforts, we end up with a number of good reasons to care about Ralph Steadman and his curare-dipped pen.