Review: The Rum Diary

Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Written by:Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
Released: March 15, 2012
Grade: B-

I wasn’t a huge fan when I first saw it… but Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is a film that I have now watched many times.  It was adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s autobiographical novel and followed two guys on a drug-fuelled bender in Las Vegas.  It helped inspire a part of my own recent holiday in the United States.  Travelling with two friends, we hired a convertible in Los Angeles, pulled down the roof and set off for the glittering lights of Vegas.

When the film was released back in 1998, Thompson released another book – The Rum Diary.  He’d written it back in the 1960s but wasn’t able to find a publisher at the time.  The story is based on his own experiences whilst trying to forge a career as a journalist in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960.  It’s a lot tamer than Fear And Loathing but fans of Hunter S. Thompson will be keen to see it.

The central character is named Paul Kemp (once again played by Johnny Depp) and he has accepted a position as a sports reporter for a struggling newspaper.  Kemp’s initial excitement quickly wears off.  He learns that he was the only applicant for the position and that the company is likely to go bust before the year is out.  It’s an organisation filled with tired writers who are well past their prime.

On his first day at the paper, Kemp meets Hal Sanderson (Eckhart), a wealthy businessman with a stunning beach-side home and a gorgeous girlfriend (Heard).  Sanderson is particularly friendly – not because he’s a nice guy but rather, because he has ulterior motives.  He needs Kemp and his journalistic skills to help promote a multi-million dollar business proposal.

It’s all a huge learning curve for Kemp.  There’s a lot of dodgy stuff going on in San Juan and he’s not quite sure what to do about it.  Part of him wants to publish stories in the paper, against the wishes of his boss (Jenkins), highlighting the heavy American influence within the country.  And the other part of him?  Well, he wants to be drinking rum, partying hard and seducing beautiful women.

The Rum Diary is a little too long at 120 minutes but it’s still nice to something new from the creative mind of Hunter S. Thompson (who passed away back in 2005).  Johnny Depp is great but Michael Rispoli (Kick-Ass) turns in the film’s best performance as the newspaper’s jaded photographer.

The film’s biggest weakness seems to be its screenplay.  For the most part, it’s just plodding along with the occasional dash of humour.  Perhaps I’d set the bar too high after Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas but I was expecting something with a bit more of an edge.