Where the Buffalo Roam (1980): An Okay Hunter S. Thompson Film

Where the Buffalo Roam poster

         Hunter S. Thompson is a fascinating character, he was a journalist who critiqued the world around him and was always getting into trouble and messing with his own perception through the use of drugs. This of course has lead to some interesting books and films…the best of which thus far “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” which feels like a drug fueled trip. “Where the Buffalo Roam” is a much smarter film as far as story goes, but in many ways just as random which brings the story structure down. Beyond this I’ll get into why it’s okay, but not great in the assessment.

         “Where the Buffalo Roam” was directed by Art Linson, who also produced the film and written by John Kaye. The story is based on The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat and Strange Rumblings in Aztlan by Hunter S. Thompson.

        The premise of the film is Thompson recalling the adventures with his lawyer Lazlo and the situations and exploits they were a part of created. The story begins with Lazlo defending teenagers for possession of marijuana and fighting the prosecutor which leads to him being arrested. We than jump four years later, as Lazlo has grown popular and but goes missing and draws Thompson into his life again during Super Bowl VI. From here the story unfolds as they clash and we see how different they truly are in their idealism.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Music – Music is taken from the sixties, seventies and eighties which gives the movie a real lived in feel. Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” is played at some point, as well as some other classics. This was a pro for sure.

Lazlo – Lazlo is Thompson’s idealistic lawyer who gives us a glimpse of the many arms of the activist community during the sixties. This makes him a fascinating figure as we see him fight physically in a court room after a young kid gets 5 years to life for possession of marijuana. Lazlo is fighting to change it and stands by the activists. This is the good of the character, the darker side is when he joins some of the more violent movements and tries to create an isolated community in the middle of nowhere. It is here we see his selfish side comes out as he talks about saving a woman for Thompson (Really? She’s not a thing). I liked Del Toro in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” better in this role, but Peter Boyle does alright and is good at showing both the idealism and violence that made Lazlo who he was.

The Super Bowl – We see the guys who got the press passes go backstage drunk and say hello to their mom on live television, we see Thompson drunk and tripped up playing football with the staff and turning his room into a field and of course Lazlo arriving in a Nixon mask.

The Campaign Trail – This is after Lazlo has gone and Thompson adopts the identity of Harris (Rene Auberjonois) and get him tripped up on acid while he goes and talks to the Candidate and takes off his clothes in front him while advocating for the doomed while the Candidate tells him the “Doomed can fuck themselves.” You pretty much see how his charisma and crazyness is able to put people at ease to reveal themselves to him, making his stories interesting.

Harris – Rene Auberjonois (Odo from “Star Trek: Deep Space 9”) Does a great job as the nervous reporter from the Washington Post stuck in the crazy plane with all the activist journalists. He connects with Thompson though and Thompson’s hallucinatory drugs make him super relaxed and fun. Rene does a good job playing both the different parts and I wish we’d seen more of his character after what went down.

Hunter S. Thompson – Bill Murray does a good job humanizing Thompson and his perspective. What we see is a guy who is a bit of a troll and loves poking power and authority while standing up and helping the poor when he can, as well as just seeking a good time. All these parts of him are shown really well and we get that he’s a genius but not very responsible as he runs away from assignments (he gives his press pass to two strangers to get them into the Super Bowl) but he is aware enough to not join Lazlo’s violent cult that plans to kill those who disagree as he has violent people in his organization. Thompson never loses his idealism, and we see it in his conversation with students at a university where he doesn’t advocate for his lifestyle of drugs and insanity but tells them it worked for him. Murray brings an every man approach to the role that humanizes more than the insane Johnny Depp from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” though Depp is much more fun to watch because of his insanity.

The Cons: Cinematography – “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” felt like a drug trip, this film, even though Thompson is on drugs throughout it, is not. It is almost like the biographical approach was taken too literally in how it’s presented, which takes away from some of the more insane scenes…like spraying people on an  airplane, a drug addled game of football and others.

The Story Structure – Because Thompson is recounting the story, nothing feels at stake. No matter how crazy things get, we know he’ll get away. This is another way “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was better since we didn’t know that. It is also hard to see him his praise for Lazlo when at the end they are fighting all the time and Thompson clearly doesn’t like the revolutionaries after one of them beats up his own men and almost shoots up Lazlo’s cabin. If this is Lazlo’s story, it remains unfinished, so what was the point?

The Beginning – The story kicks off really slow and it is hard to sympathize with Thompson at first as we see him constantly skirting his responsibility and using random people. He becomes more sympathetic in contrast to Lazlo, but the story doesn’t start off making him endearing…even if he’s played by Bill Murray.

The Ending – The Ending just kind of ends, he leaves Lazlo again (when it wasn’t needed, he left him before when Lazlo and his group were getting weapons). It would have been stronger if Thompson had any desire to join the group, but we never see him wanting too. He enjoys what he gets from his work and being able to drink and do whatever drugs he wants while covering interesting events. So Lazlo’s temptation doesn’t really feel like a temptation, which again we see Thompson at his ranch so we can guess even earlier that never took Lazlo up on his offer.

      This movie was enjoyable, it was okay…but it wasn’t great. The story structure and how the film is presented don’t lend themselves will for getting fully invested in the different adventures and events. We in the end, have no reason to care about Lazlo and Thompson is interesting, but without a concrete structure it is hard to get invested in the events that unfold. Knowing he’s writing the story takes away from it too. If it was him writing his biography it should have been revealed at the end, so we wouldn’t know how things would end up in the end. I’d say see it if you like Hunter S. Thompson’s writing and like Bill Murray but if you don’t, you aren’t missing much.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Solidly okay.

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