It's no surprise that indie documentary For No Good Reason drew a large audience at the Phoenix Film Festival. The star power of Johnny Depp and Ralph Steadman, along with real footage of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs, was definitely a contributing factor. Since attendees didn't get the same filmmaker-audience interaction as other movies because there was no Q&A and the film wasn't in competition, For No Good Reason was entertainment for entertainment's sake. But it achieved more than that.
See also: Phoenix Film Festival Review: Eddie Jemison's King of Herrings
For No Good Reason, directed by Charlie Paul, isn't a chronological portrayal of Ralph Steadman's life and career. The film jumps from Steadman creating works live on camera in front of Depp, one of his most famous fans, to his early career to his gonzo journalism days to his childhood. As Depp watches Steadman splatter and splash gobs of paint, transforming blank canvases into darkly beautiful original pieces, you gain insight into the mind of one of the most iconic living artists.
Admittedly, some scenes where Depp would react to Steadman seemed a little goofy, usually consisting of a "whoa" or an eager, yet forced, agreement. However, Steadman's ideas permeate any awkward interaction between the two, and you have to wonder if maybe Depp was just a little starstruck himself.
While you get the humor and playfulness of Steadman's process, the documentary dives into his dark childhood and strong sense of justice. His work, largely satire, all fits in with his unwavering ideas about human rights and criticizing the "bullies in positions of power."
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Best of all, the mix of modern music and vintage footage will likely have any indie art and music fan geeking out pretty hard throughout the film. Case in point, there's a whole scene where Steadman is collaborating with Richard E. Grant on a Polaroid photo project, set to a James Blake song. Crystal Castles also contributed the song "Empathy" for a scene where Steadman is method acting as Leonardo da Vinci to research his book, I Leonardo.
In a film festival full of fictional characters, some more hashed out than others, it's nice to take a break and see a film about real life characters, like Thompson, Burroughs, and, of course, Steadman, and the antics, drama, and real emotion in their stories.
However, what For No Good Reason does most effectively is transport viewers back to the time of gonzo journalism and show just why Steadman made what he did. In the film he says it was all to fulfill his "duty to change the world," although in the end you can tell he is still not sure he really did anything. We will say it was funny to see some audience members squirm even today at Steadman's critical symbolism aimed at religious figures and politicians. Clearly, if nothing else, Steadman and Paul's documentary about him made the audience think, if only for no good reason.