FOR NO GOOD REASON is a look at the work of British artist Ralph Steadman. This is the artist responsible for some iconic and bizarre imagery best associated with the work of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. This documentary follows Johnny Depp (a friend and admirer of Thompson) as he interviews Steadman about his life and work. This leads to many stories about Steadman and Thompson which are also recounted by contributors including Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant, Tim Robbins, and others. The film seems to lose track of what it was supposedly about, but it features some neat imagery and archive footage to go along with Steadman’s artwork, along with some nice extras to round out this Blu-ray package.
The setup of this documentary is fairly straightforward. It is like a weekend trip for Johnny Depp, who finds himself at the house of Ralph Steadman where he gets to hear some stories. From there, we get to hear about the various passions of Steadman, which led to his friendship with Hunter S. Thompson. While we get to hear a lot about what drove Steadman, what his influences were and how he approached his art, it is the stories about Thompson that seem to be positioned as the more interesting parts of the film.
It is this topic that keeps FOR NO GOOD REASON from being a better documentary. While a film that goes completely into the life of Ralph Steadman may or may not be incredibly interesting, it does seem a bit strange that this film seems to sideline its lead character in favor of Hunter S. Thompson. It is hard to call FOR NO GOOD REASON messy per se, but it does seem to jump in and out of focus. The interviews are helpful to an extent, as it is fun to see people like Terry Gilliam and Richard E. Grant describe what they think of Steadman’s work, let alone see the classic art imagery associated with these people in this context. Still, there is a weird association to two different leads in this film, which keeps the film from approaching greater heights.
Director Charlie Paul does try to do some interesting things from a filmmaking perspective. He connects scenes together using some neat transitions that seem to come out of a very glossy version of a Terry Gilliam film. A lot of the artwork depicted gets an animated treatment, making the images feel like they are coming to life in a sense. All of the scenes featuring Steadman actually creating his art are also neat to see, even as Depp watches with a child-like smile on his face throughout.
I have mentioned Hunter S. Thompson a few times and it is not that I am opposed to hearing more about this man. That said, there are a few docs about him at this point, while I know so little about the man behind the unique art I identify Thompson with. Still, it is not too surprising to hear stories about Steadman participating in drug and alcohol fueled trips that helped turn Thompson into a cult icon…well the results that came from those trips, anyway.
As opposed to a film like TIM’S VERMEER or JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, FOR NO GOOD REASON feels like it does not dig into its topic all that well, despite having some neat imagery and solid interviews that gave me a basic sense of the man behind the art. When we should be more invested on our lead, the film instead moves towards the character he followed in an effort to build up his own work. Not to say that Steadman is not an accomplished artist, but the film only seems to want to occasionally make him the focus, before moving on to other stories. It has plenty of heart, but feels like a film that moved on to something else while keeping the same framework.
While the cinematic transitions look great and seeing Steadman’s work come alive or being made is solid, there are a number of elements extending beyond the archival footage that make this AVC-encoded 1080p transfer fall a bit short of what Sony Picture Classics usually manages to put out in their releases. Being a documentary, one can expect the quality to be a bit lower, but I did see issues in way scenes following Depp and Steadman around. It is a bit more than minor, as seeing some flaws in frames of the film, let alone some blurry moments felt more noticeable than the average, well-polished documentary. An average transfer overall.
The audio track works much better for this Blu-ray. FOR NO GOOD REASON features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack, which does a fine job of capturing the dialogue, sound effects, score, and general ambience of all that is going on around the people featured in this art documentary. It is a dialogue-driven film, but now and again, some elements kick in that allow a surround system to do some extra work to convey what is on screen. I have nothing to really say against the quality overall though, as it is a well-balanced audio track.
Depending on how much you enjoyed this documentary, this Blu-ray does feature a nice collection of extras.
- Commentary with Director Charlie Paul and Producer Lucy Paul – All fairly standard info, but it doesn’t do enough to address my concerns with the film overall.
- CHERRYWOOD CANNON Animated Short film – Interesting.
- Deleted Scenes
- Extended Interviews – Terry Gilliam, Richard E. Grant and Bruce Robinson have more to say.
- Toronto International Film Festival Q&A with Ralph Steadman and Charlie Paul
- DVD Copy of the Film
While an interesting topic and full of neat imagery, a behind-the-scenes look at an iconic cult artist only goes so far in actually detailing the man himself. Ralph Steadman is certainly an interesting figure, but the film finds Hunter S. Thompson more interesting, which ultimately hurts this film, despite having some fun stories to delve into. That said, this is a nice Blu-ray package in terms of its collection of extras, the audio track, and a decent video transfer. Worth checking out for those looking for a decent art-based documentary, with a little more edge, given the involvement of a rock star of a journalist in this story.