The Rum Diary, 2011.
Written and Directed by Bruce Robinson.
Starring Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard and Richard Jenkins.
A drunken journalist takes up a job at a local newspaper on the island of Puerto Rico.
Five long years after the death of the original Gonzo journalist Hunter Stockton Thompson his work has finally made it to the big screen once again with The Rum Diary. Director Bruce Robinson, off of Withnail & I fame, dusts off the cobwebs after 12 years away from film in order to bring Thompson’s first novel to the big screen.
The film follows Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) who, with an exaggerated resume and a taste for alcohol, decides to take a break from America and applies for a job on a tiny newspaper on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico – the San Juan Star. The rag tag newspaper is the home of several washed up and rum ridden hacks and bums hence it struggling to pull much of a readership. Kemp has been brought in to freshen them up, but apart from writing horoscopes he spends more time away from the paper than he does working.
Kemp gets caught up in a dodgy business deal being pushed by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and promptly falls in love with his girlfriend, the sexy and seductive Chenault (Amber Heard). As things go from bad to weird and then to worse Kemp bumbles through his job and everything else with rum coursing through his veins. When he falls out with Sanderson the luck he has previously found evaporates and everything at the paper falls apart once Sanderson pulls a few strings. With the paper being shut down and Kemp just finding his new found writing voice he plans to publish one last edition of the paper and to out all the dirty secrets he has been privy to, but despite his best efforts everything is lost and he returns to America. However, he is now a writer with a voice.
The Rum Diary was written in 1961, but not published until 1998 and was created at a time when Thompson was finding his own voice and drinking his body weight in rum. Three times someone has attempted to get the film off the ground since the novel was published, but it was only with the help of Johnny Depp’s own production company, Infinitum Nihil, that it has made it to the big screen. The ride has been less than smooth though after a years long delay whilst they struggled for a better distribution deal.
The film has some beauty, some story and some utter madness, but they never seem to all work together all of the time. The novel is a slow burner and meanders several different ways as Thompson himself struggles to find his voice within the writing. It also struggles to find a direction and these are sadly also evident in the film. The Rum Diary is not an easy book to adapt, and to be honest I was surprised that it is the first piece of Hunter’s work to make it to the big screen after his death.
The film isn’t terrible, but it is slow and needs a patient pair of eyes to stick with it for the entire 2 hours. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas this isn’t, but having read the majority of Hunter Thompson’s work I didn’t expect it to be. The Rum Diary was written long before the eccentric gonzo style Hunter became renowned. Anyone who plans to frequent their local multiplex with a head full of acid and to go on a crazy drug-fuelled trip will be sorely mistaken with only one scene being drug-fuelled. For me it was wonderful to see Hunter Thompson’s words come to life once again, but I fear that the masses will not appreciate it.
For true Hunter S. Thompson fans The Rum Diary will be an enjoyable and cherished moment, but for those who only recognise the name in relation to Fear and Loathing it may not be the biggest hit. Sadly.