When a documentary feels the urge to shout about its celebrity cast with a lengthy, elaborate opening-credits sequence, could it be making up for shortcomings elsewhere? Perhaps the filmmakers behind this bio-doc don’t feel that enough people will know or care about illustrator Ralph Steadman, because they make sure we know who his celebrity friends are right from the start, notably deceased gonzo icon Hunter S. Thompson and, inevitably, Thompson worshipper Johnny Depp.
Indeed, Depp appears in the very first frames, arriving at Steadman’s house to interview the artist, then cooing appreciatively as Steadman flicks some ink on a blank sheet of paper before transforming it into one of his trademark dynamic, surrealist and satirical drawings. This vague lack of confidence on the part of the creative team—an urge to cast the net as wide as humanly possible—echoes infuriatingly throughout the film. It’s there in the music choices, as director Charlie Paul eschews contemporary sounds for his ’60s and ’70s sequences, preferring instead the most lifeless modern indie sludge. It’s there in the tedious reiteration of key arguments—Thompson’s prose wouldn’t have been anything without Steadman’s drawings, y’know!—and in the constant return of Depp to center stage. It’s a shame, because there’s a good, solid documentary to be made about this fascinating, enormously talented, slightly self-congratulatory man and his unmistakable oeuvre.