THE RUM DIARY
DIRECTOR: Bruce Robinson
CAST: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard
CLASSIFICATION: 13 LSD
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
Johnny Depp, Puerto Rico and 93 bottles of booze a week. Nothing is in moderation. In this drama Depp chronicles the late legendary journalist Hunter S Thompson’s life of booze-soaked months in 1960s Puerto Rico, when he was a writer still struggling to find his voice, worried that he might not actually have one.
Depp stars as Paul Kemp, a journalist who has just taken a job as a news correspondent and horoscope writer for a daily newspaper staffed by personnel at least as dysfunctional as Kemp, and run by a corrupt editor named Lotterman (Jenkins). Kemp is a man who has no control when it comes to drinking, or his own sense of justice.
Kemp quickly succumbs to the greedy ways of the island. In a place where everything can easily be bought and sold, Kemp takes up a deal with a wealthy developer named Sanderson (Eckhart) in need of some good press.
Through Sanderson, Kemp is introduced to how the better half live on the island and how the shady distribution of wealth contributes to an unstable state of affairs between the Americans and the locals.
In the film, Puerto Rico is a nation of hidden wealth. The story takes us on sequences through its damage, from the island’s poverty to its pristine tropical paradise of blue beaches.
While the film is very adeptly put together in terms of its story, the direction does show a slight bit of rust. The film spends a lot of time setting up the local colour with lush detail, while the second half rushes to its conclusion.
What we have instead is a jaunty, aimless series of mini-adventures about booze-soaked writers in Puerto Rico in 1960 – a promising subject, to be sure, but one that needs some focus and discipline to make it work on the screen.
A bombshell of a blonde Chenault, played by Amber Heard as Sanderson’s lady, is the perfect distraction for Kemp, complicating matters.
We also have Giovanni Ribisi, who plays the paper’s dirty, unkempt and looney crime and religion reporter who adds entertaining character to the story.
The film has managed to set the tone of the era from linen suits to the vintage cars that include a 1959 red Chevy Corvette.
We have some fun with it, but you can tell the actors are having a lot more fun than we are. Sequences of drunken shenanigans in which Kemp and one or more of his associates get into scrapes with the police are what the film mostly consists of.
Although the issue of him trying to find his voice is the focus of the film, Thompson may have found his in real life, but The Rum Diary never does.
* If you liked … Blow (2001) with Depp as a drug smuggler… you may like this.