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Just a quick point...
I believe it to be one of the largest travesties that Benicio Del Toro received such harsh criticism in this film. He is absolutely brilliant, IMO. Picture him from this movie, then picture him in Crash and then in Usual Suspects. If you didn't know, you would believe it to be three completely different actors, three different people.
De Niro, Hollywood's darling that can do no wrong, received such high praise and many awards were bestowed upon him in for what he did to his body in order to star in, what I believe to be an average movie: Raging Bull. Raging Bull has it's good moments, but it is poorly edited (as are most of Scorsese films), poorly acted and melodramatic. I think Del Toro received poor marks on this film because most reviewers couldn't get past the drug use and simply pigeonholed the film as a "drug movie". I don't use drugs yet I find this movie wildly entertaining. While drugs play a role, it's to illustrate their uselessness and the uselessness of the hippie culture as a whole. Thompson even says as much when he criticizes Timothy Leary as being the sole destructive force to the ideals he tried to create.
The most basic outline of the plot: "Journalist goes to cover a race, does nothing but abuse drugs and gets nothing accomplished" - reflects the opinion of drugs, the hippie movement and government that I think Thompson wanted to relate to people.
Basically, I just wanted to give Del Toro - one of the most underrated actors around now - his proper due, and the respect he deserves for this movie. There isn't a moment he's on film that I'm unable to unlock my eyes from him. Reminds me of Steve McQueen from Magnificent Seven and how he did all these little things to stand out from Yul Brenner. Del Toro takes this to the Nth degree. Del Toro manages to do this with subtlety AND while being in your face.
It is a brilliant performance.