Starring: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard
Running Time: 115 minutes approx
Extras: A Voice Made Of Ink And Rage: Inside The Rum Diary, Rum Diary Back-Story, Trailer
Hunter S Thompson’s novels and articles are loved and loathed in equal measure. Highly descriptive and cynical in tone he has given us seminal works including ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, ‘Hell’s Angels’ and numerous article compilations charting his time at ‘Rolling Stone’ and other publications.
Terry Gilliam, unsurprisingly a Thompson aficionado, collaborated with Johnny Depp to film the apparently un-filmable FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS in 1998. With hallucinogenic visuals and performances from Depp and Benicio Del Toro that channeled the essence of the novel, it is seen by fans to be the complete Hunter S Thompson film experience.
13 years after FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Bruce Robinson brings Thompson’s THE RUM DIARY to the screen. Published in 1998, the novel was actually written when Thompson was in his early twenties and deals with feelings of being ‘past it’ with a heady mix of alcohol-induced scenarios and intoxicated characters. Following Paul Kemp (Depp), the story commences as he joins a Puerto Rican newspaper, The Daily News, following a stint with The New York Times. From here we are introduced to an editor who is sick of his job in a failing environment (Richard Jenkins) and a staff photographer, Sala (Rispoli), who fast becomes Kemp’s best friend.
With Robinson previously bringing us WITHNAIL AND I (1987), it is no great surprise he doesn’t shy away from the alcohol abuse portrayed in the book. Of course when working with characters that are almost constantly inebriated it can be difficult to portray emotional depth, although watching Depp, Rispoli and an inspired Giovanni Ribisi (as Nazi-loving Moberg) is fun, it struggles to engage completely after the first 25-30 minutes. At this point the film introduces us to Hal Sanderson (Eckhart) and his girlfriend Chenault (Heard). Sanderson welcomes Kemp into his life with open arms and ulterior motives, requiring the writer to produce a brochure for the development of an island off Puerto Rico that is exempt from tax laws. Being a staunch Democrat, as shown in the films best scene a disagreement over an article with his editor and a denouncement of ‘The American Dream’, Kemp is against the plans but goes along with a heavy heart, mainly brought about by his love for Chenault.
From here the film somewhat loses its way and in dealing with the love story, Robinson – who adapted the screenplay along with directing – gives the film a very formulaic feel. It’s unfortunate there wasn’t another element to the story; perhaps a journalistic quest to unearth the terrible conditions most Puerto Ricans live in which is alluded to early on in the piece but never spoken of again.
With some genuine laughs and a political tenacity in its first half followed by a stale second THE RUM DIARY is a disappointing love letter to the sadly deceased author that could, and given the talent on show, should have been much better.
Extras: Unavailable at time of review.