For No Good Reason: For No Good Reason

Image credit: Sony Classics

There’s a great film to be made about Ralph Steadman: the man’s work runs to untold volumes of acid-cured dark marvels, all febrile excoriations of crooks, bastards, fiends and tyrants. The man, in a point this particular film labours, set out ‘to change the world’ with his work.

Steadman’s dark whimsy kicks against the pricks, wails harrowing anguish for the downtrodden, bears its frothing, jagged canines at the cruel injustice that is existence.

That great film? It’s not this one.

Produced in 2012 and only now making its way to our screens, For No Good Reason is a curious vanity project, in that it seems mainly concerned with Johnny Depp’s excellent sailor tattoos and layman’s knowledge (to be generous) of illustrative process.

Nodding a lot, drawling the odd ‘amazing’ through omnipresent cigarillo, the only plausible reason for the increasingly exasperating thesp’s omnipresence in this half-century spanning narrative is financing.

Image credit: Sony Classics

Admittedly, Charlie and Lucy Paul’s film is a handsomely wrought endeavour, an embarrassment of lushly considered studio environs and mementos from Steadman’s career.

One wonders, however, what expensive re-enactments of pivotal Gonzo moments like the America’s Cup ‘FUCK THE POPE’ incident contribute to proceedings; especially considering the embarrassment of trenchant renderings available in Steadman’s folio. When the filmmakers do resort to utilising Steadman’s work to illustrate the text, it’s as sterile, animated vignettes, the effect of which is to dilute its brutal savagery.

Let us not dismiss the man himself as storyteller. Steadman is, much to legendary conspirator Hunter S. Thompson’s mirthful chagrin, a widely published author and raconteur himself — wonder at the intestinal fortitude of a man who’ll inform the good Doctor himself he’s responsible for his success (to his well-armed face, what’s more).

Nonetheless, the artist is given thin regard in his own story, shackled to the twin cults of Thompson and Burroughs, beholden to the self-styled iconoclast Depp, the credibility debilitated hanger on and nominal vessel via which the older men are delivered unto the art house crowd.

As an exploration of storytelling (visual and otherwise), For No Good Reason is a disappointingly garbled affair. Its confused chronology moves jarringly from your Rumbles In The Jungle to your Withnails & I via the Kentucky Derby and Watergate and back again, with seemingly random abandon, breathlessly, sadly wasting the contributions of Richard E. Grant, Terry Gilliam, Jann Wenner and Scanlan’s Warren Hinckle III on fleeting, sound bite insights.

While synonymous with Steadman’s career, Thompson and William S. Burroughs fare little better, both reduced to blustering, gun toting cartoons.

The revelation of the existence of Steadman’s wife of forty years, his long suffering fellow traveller from the very inception of Gonzo, comes at the film’s conclusion — a single scene of gustatory bonhomie intimating the artist is not living out his days shuffling about the estate with his sad eyed-labrador.

When not skipping distractingly from iconic event to monosyllabic ‘interview’ grabs, the audience is treated to studio based insights into Steadman’s famously splenetic, grotesquerie conjuring process — a tactile, excavatory battle between ink and paper, akin to paring back the congealed bile to reveal the sinister truth that lies beneath.

Still, these transcendent moments of raw creative alchemy are few and far between. Disappointingly, ironically, this is a superficial affair at heart, a call to arms to some nascent documentarian, somewhere out there, to step up and give us the definitive scabrous insight into the squalid grandeur of Steadman’s rabid, uninhibited, humanist id.

Originally published at www.hopscotchfriday.com.