A Movie A Day #55: Where The Buffalo Roam (1980, directed by Art Linson)


where_the_buffalo_roam_ver3At his Colorado ranch, journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Bill Murray) is up against a deadline.  He has to finish his story about his friendship with the radical lawyer and activist, Carlo Lazlo (Peter Boyle).  Thompson flashes back to the time that he covered a trial in which Lazlo defended a group of young men charged with possession of marijuana.  When the men are sent to prison, Lazlo snaps and physically attacks the prosecutor.  Later, Lazlo resurfaces during the Super Bowl and tries to convince Thompson to join him in fighting a revolution in Latin America.  And finally, in 1972, Lazlo tracks Thompson down while Thompson is traveling with the Nixon campaign.

Bill Murray as the legendary gonzo journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson?

It sounds like a great idea, it’s just too bad that the movie’s not any good.  Where The Buffalo Roam may be based on three of Thompson’s best known articles but it never feels gonzo.  It never comes close to capturing Thompson’s anarchistic spirit.  The real Thompson did drugs by the handful, was fascinated by guns, and always seemed to be on the verge of plunging into the abyss.  Where The Buffalo Roam’s Thompson is a mild prankster and an ironically detached hipster, the type who the real Dr. Thompson probably would have kicked out of a moving car.  As for Carlo Lazlo, the character is based on Oscar Zeta Acosta, the infamous “Samoan attorney” that Thompson renamed “Dr. Gonzo” in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.  The movie never figures out what to do with the character or Peter Boyle.

While preparing for the role, Bill Murray spent months hanging out with Thompson and, according to the book, Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live by Doug Weingard and Jeff Hill, literally became Hunter Thompson for not only the duration of the filming but for several months afterward:

“In a classic case of the role overtaking the actor, Billy returned that fall to Saturday Night so immersed in playing Hunter Thompson he had virtually become Hunter Thompson, complete with long black cigarette holder, dark glasses, and nasty habits. ‘Billy,’ said one of the writers, echoing several others, ‘was not Bill Murray, he was Hunter Thompson. You couldn’t talk to him without talking to Hunter Thompson.'”

Neither Thompson nor Bill Murray were happy with Where The Buffalo Roam‘s neutered version of gonzo and the film is really for Murray completists only.  The closest that Hollywood had gotten to getting Thompson right remains Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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One response to “A Movie A Day #55: Where The Buffalo Roam (1980, directed by Art Linson)

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