The film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Rum Diary” was released Friday after being shelved for almost two years. The book, written in the early 1960s but published in 1998, is based on Thompson’s early years as a writer. Thompson, a flamboyant journalist and novelist, changed the face of journalism with his watchdog authority. Starring Johnny Depp, the film stays true to the book’s liberal ideology of social justice while developing a slight personality of its own. Director Bruce Robinson gave an impressive tribute to Thompson.
Set in the 1950s, Paul Kemp (Depp) is a failed journalist who travels to Puerto Rico to try his luck at the local newspaper. The publication Kemp works for, The San Juan Star, is littered with colorful characters and social unrest.
However, the newspaper’s editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), is struggling to keep the paper afloat and his writers focused. Two of the Star’s journalists, Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovanni Rivisi), befriend Kemp.
Kemp has trouble maintaining a balance between local life, booze and writing. He often finds himself wrapped up in his own self-indulgence and ignoring the consequences. Kemp is soon introduced to a shady real estate developer, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), and his fiancé, Chenault (Amber Heard).
Sanderson involves Kemp in a plan to develop a nearby island using manipulation to exploit those living there. When Kemp realizes the social unrest and deteriorating local economy are caused by a small group of wealthy individuals headed by Sanderson, he begins developing a plan to fix the wrong that has been done.
“The Rum Diary” is entertaining from start to finish, but lacks a direct plot line. The film is much like watching a drunken night unfold. It jumps from various topics, entertaining the viewer with moments of hilarity, then abruptly ends without solving the conflicts presented.
A string of vignettes capture the characters’ personalities; however, there is much left to the imagination, leaving the viewer wanting more.
The film’s saving grace is the development of Kemp’s voice as a journalist. Watching the previously underrated and insecure writer grow into a strong journalist is inspiring and rewarding.
Somewhere between the booze, beaches and broads lies a strong message about poverty and the impact an individual can have on socioeconomic problems.
Depp’s and Heard’s performances in “The Rum Diary” are impressive and captivating. Depp succeeds in another perfect portrayal of the young Thompson, and makes the role his own with his unique acting style. Depp also portrayed the author in Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and was Thompson’s good friend.
Heard is a perfect fit for the outgoing and seductive Chenault, adding a classy and intelligent touch to the character.
Though the book goes much more in-depth, the characters (with the exception of Sanderson whose character was watered down) are accurately depicted in relation to the text.