The Rum Diary

  • 2011-12-07
  • By Laurence Boyce

Director: Bruce Robinson

Despite being known for his journalism, the anarchic American writer, drinker and drug enthusiast Hunter S. Thompson also tried his hand at fiction. The resultant novel, “The Rum Diary,” went unpublished for more than 35 years. Featuring Thompson’s typical preoccupation – namely the aforementioned drugs, alcohol and politics – the book was a frenetic yet enjoyable read. But its transfer to the screen has not been kind and the ultimate effect is like having a drunkard ramble on at you for a few hours.

In the 1960s, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) arrives in Puerto Rico to write for the local newspaper. Assigned to cover bowling alleys and write horoscopes, Kemp amuses himself by drinking rum, hanging out with crazy fellow staff members and generally getting into mischief. But the American influence on the island troubles him and after meeting the influential Mr. Sanderson (Aaron Eckhardt) he becomes torn between reporting the truth and taking the money and leaving a life in a rum and drug fuelled haze. When the beautiful Chenault (Amber Heard) enters the picture, things become even more complicated.

Terry Gilliam managed to capture Thompson’s spirit in his adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (starring one Mr. Johnny Depp in the lead). But, whilst Depp does a good job here (basically playing a toned down version of Thompson), Robinson (directing his first film in 19 years) indulges the source material too much. There are too many tangents and scenes – from cock fights to drug induced hallucinations about big tongues – that are individually OK but never hang together. The film never really manages a coherent narrative (indeed, the ‘plot’ doesn’t kick in until around halfway through) and feels more like a series of sketches.

There are some good things including a great soundtrack and strong performances from the likes of Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli, but it is a disappointing and overlong affair.


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