I am at a slight disadvantage here since I have never read the autobiographical book by Hunter S. Thompson, so I cannot really declare just how faithful it is to its source material (or what inspired this film). I believe this film could qualify as a sort of 'events before' the novel, but I am not sure. Regardless, director Bruce Robinson’s “The Rum Diary” is competently executed and I could almost believe that this was Thompson as a 22-year old (ok, Depp is certainly older than 22) in the early 1960’s after an assignment as a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Robinson (who also wrote the script) created an alter-ego for Thompson in the persona of Paul Kemp who is trying to find his calling as a writer.
Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp, Rango) is a journalist who moves from one place to another, as long as he gets a job as a journalist. During the Eisenhower administration, Kemp travels to U.S. territory Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper ran by Lotterman (Robert Jenkins). Once there, Kemp gets enlisted to write favorably of a real estate scheme headed up by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and becomes obsessed with his fiancee, Chenault (deliciously played by sexy Amber Heard, Drive Angry). Trying to keep himself out of trouble, Kemp is befriended by a fellow journalist, Bob Salas (Michael Rispoli) and an eccentric named Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), but it seems like that shady deal with Sanderson and his cahoots is about to drop a few complications in his life and Kemp is left to face a choice….
Bruce Robinson did a good job in bringing the viewer to this period of time. I could really feel that I was in 60’s Puerto Rico, the atmosphere, the costumes, the vehicles and the set designs were all reminiscent of this day and age. I also liked the way the film was shot in a sort of a muggy look that almost mimicked the camerawork shot in a standard old 35 mm film. The direction clearly went through a lot of trouble imagining the mood and the tone of the film which gave it a rather authentic feel, this really is a plus as the film’s script is driven by its characters and its dialogue.
The script by Robinson had a clever blend of dark humor, light-hearted comedy (courtesy of Robert Jenkins) and even some sort of existential brooding. It builds the Kemp character into a sort of moral self-discovery as he ponders what is and what should be the right thing to do. I have to admit that some characters did have that somewhat cartoonish feel, but the direction was very careful to keep them grounded, and as a result, they felt believable and real. You get to know the characters through their interactions, they become the dialogue as the story is driven by the characters. It is a little hard to say, but really, I appreciated the way I was drawn into the scenes, slowly, as I see the characters grow within the script towards some sort of resolution.
Johnny Depp is good as Kemp, and I do have to question that after his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates”, it seems like the actor just cannot get away from Rum. He is a very charismatic actor and he can indeed carry the film; but even an actor of his caliber cannot pull it off by himself. The supporting cast headed up by Rispoli and Ribisi managed to make a connection with the Kemp persona, and their interactions really felt natural. The trio just managed to form that chemistry, that I was entertained just by listening to their exchanges. “I’ll throw in the drug if you come with me to the bathroom..” was one of the scenes that just really made me laugh, along with that scene in the junk restaurant in the woods. Robinson did a good job balancing out the screenplay, as it never felt ‘preachy’ despite its theme of self-discovery and the road to moral principle. Surprisingly, Amber Heard just commanded attention; her portrayal of the sexy Chenault nearly stole the show, I could really sympathize how Kemp became enchanted of her. She was just so eye-catching and alluring.
Overall, I did enjoy “The Rum Diary”. It was well-intentioned and well-made but it felt a little incomplete. I feel that as soon as the story was just starting to get real interesting that the film stopped in its development; perhaps it was just me being unfamiliar with the book, but I really wanted more to happen in the film. It is a simple film but credibly executed as something about finding one’s conscience because of something very unexpected.
*** out of **** "The Rum Diary" is often acknowledged as one of Hunter S. Thompson's weakest works; a good story with good, intellectual notions and intentions that was ruined by mainstream glamor - the kind that Thompson had trouble escaping at the time. And now here's the film adaptation of the inferior novel; under the direction of Bruce Robinson, and starring Johnny Depp. Now if you know your stuff when it comes to cinema, you'll know that Depp is just about the only actor … more
Somewhere there is a good story buried in this movie. Its a shame the screenplay never finds it. I really wanted to like this movie. Even while sitting through it I kept thinking I really wanted to like it. But it went nowhere and really told no story. Hunter S. Thompson is such a fascinating personality. They really could have done so much more. I would subtitle this movie Fear and Loathing Lite.
Information for parents: Common Sense Media says not for kids. Read More
Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper, The San Juan Star, run by downtrodden editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the wildly attractive Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson, a businessman involved in shady property development deals, is one of a growing number of American entrepreneurs who are determined to convert Puerto Rico into a capitalist paradise in service of the wealthy. When Kemp is recruited by Sanderson to write favorably about his latest unsavory scheme, the journalist is presented with a choice: to use his words for the corrupt businessmen’s financial benefit, or use them to take the bastards down.