For No Good Reason, a well-intended biographical film about Ralph Steadman, famed for the outrageous, acidic caricatures he created to accompany the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, is best suited for Steadman fanatics. Viewers who are lukewarm (or worse) about the illustrator’s accomplishments are more likely to notice the movie’s shortcomings.
The film is built around a long interview conducted by Johnny Depp at Steadman’s British estate, and the actor takes pains to keep the focus on the film’s subject and not his own stardom. Depp has a clear case of hero worship when it comes to Steadman and, especially, Thompson — he has portrayed the writer in two features ( Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diaries). Depp also paid for the funeral after Thompson killed himself in 2005.
Director Charlie Paul has embellished the interview and the film’s many images of Steadman’s work with plenty of bells and whistles: animations, split screens, pop music and the like. It makes the 89-minute movie feel very busy.
Steadman is surprisingly amiable, given the savagery of much of his work, which was motivated by political rage at the authority figures of his and Thompson’s heyday in the late 1960s and ’70s, especially Richard Nixon.
The artist describes his first meeting with Thompson, later known for his rocket-fueled writing style and his appetite for booze and drugs, when the two men were assigned to cover the Kentucky Derby for a magazine. Though Steadman wasn’t as prone to substance abuse, and differed in many other ways from Thompson, he recognized that the writer was “the one man I needed to meet in America.”
That’s a tame example of Steadman’s recollections — many of the anecdotes are wild and wooly, and Depp hears them out agreeably. We also get to watch Depp watching Steadman create a drawing out of an ink splat, one of his trademark techniques.
All well and good, but in the end the movie is less than satisfying. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that film was unable to capture essential aspects of the artist’s life and work. It’s also hard to avoid the idea that the filmmaker may have realized this, and felt obliged to goose up the movie with unnecessary touches (like inserting archival footage into an image of an old TV).
For No Good Reason offers some memorable stories, but it simply tries too hard.
Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; opens May 30 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.