The Rum Diary (2011)
(15) Running time: 120 mins
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writers: Hunter S. Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard
Reviewed by: David Gillespie, official HCF artist
I really didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch Bruce Robinson’s (Withnail and I) take on The Rum Diary, a sort of prequel to the Hunter S. Thompson penned Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The latter was such an extreme assault on the senses that The Rum Diary could either have gone for the same strategy or something remarkably different. What Robinson has done is approach the subject matter in an area that is somewhere in between. He has presented us with something that is undenieably more palatable and linear than Terry Gilliam’s feature, yet by doing so has diluted all that was right with the original pill popping, ether supping acid trip.
The story takes place during the 1950’s as American Journalist, Paul Kemp or Hunter S. Thompson (Johnny Depp) takes on a freelance reporter position at a low quality newspaper in Peurto Rico. It seems his chances have been improved by the fact that he was the only one to apply for the job. After being removed from his hotel accomodation by unhinged editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) for an unrealistic mini bar bill, Kemp hooks up with a newspaper photographer called Sala (Michael Rispoli) and infested rogue reporter, Moburg (a superb Giovanni Ribisi) in their cramped, down town flat. The three men share the accomodation with Sala’s fighting cockrels which are used to create some additional alcohol revenue.
Paul’s arrival has not been ignored by crooked PR entrepreneur, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who has plans for the young reporter in his bid to exploit the island’s resources for his own financial gain and rise to power. Sanderson’s partner, Chenault (the beautiful Amber Heard) has her own reasons for wanting to spend more time with Paul. The scene where the couple meet for the time in the sea is completely charming and perhaps the most impressive sequence in the movie’s running time.
It is in the second half that any kind of pace or urgency hits proceedings. The ugly underbelly and simmering violence within Peurto Rico begins to bubble to the surface withKemp finally feeling obliged to drop the rum bottle and strike back at the corruption and wrongs of those exploiting the poor and defenceless within this tarnished paradise. The staff of the local newspaper band together in a bid to reveal Sanderson’s true intentions. However they might be fighting a losing battle.
It is probably pointless trying to evaluate the merits of The Rum Diary on the strength of it’s plot or resolution. There is very little in both departments. The plot does not start moving until a good two thirds of the way into the running time and it hits a brick wall when you start thinking it might have some purpose or destination. Supporters and fans of Hunter S. Thompson will argue that this is missing the point as the writer’s strengths are in his characters, incidents and dialogue. Yes, this is certainly true. Kemp’s flat mate’s Moburg and Sala are ingenius creations and almost make the journey worthwhile. Giovanni Ribisi’s portrayal of Moburg could well be his life defining role. He is a quite incredible creation.
There are also some hilarious situations and witty banter throughout. The unfortunate aspect of the whole project is that it does not mould together properly as a stoner/ slacker comedy, drama or anything else. If you have watched the trailer then you have seen the best moments and all the major plot devices in all of it’s two minutes. The Rum Diary is not a bad movie but could have tried that little bit harder to be a satisfying one.