|A car only slightly more reliable than my Hunter|
The Rum Diary was announced back in 2000, but was stuck in development hell for more than a decade before its eventual release in October 2011. In the intervening decade, stars dropped in and out of the project, with Johnny Depp being the only constant. When Thompson died in 2005 (with Depp funding the utterly ridiculous project to disperse his cremains), I was worried that this film would never be made. When it came out, though, I was worried for a different reason. Given Hunter's recent passing, The Rum Diary might have become sentimental and not stay true to the bizarre Hunter S. style. I didn't hear much buzz about the movie, so I waited to watch it, fearing that I may have been right. For once.
The Rum Diaries follows the exploits of journalist and obvious Hunter S. Thompson analogue Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) in the late 1950s. Kemp has traveled to Puerto Rico for a job on a San Juan newspaper, where he is quickly introduced to a few well-known local facts. First of all, the newspaper is floundering and will probably shut down in a matter of weeks. Second, Puerto Rico at this time was sharply split between extreme poverty and an American upper-class of robber barons. Third, and most important of all, Puerto Rico was an easy place to lose yourself in drugs and booze.
|...although finding yourself again ain't always pretty|
|Above: scene from an earlier, more depressing, version of Moulin Rouge|
The acting in The Rum Diary is good. If you have seen Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing, there might not be a lot new to see here, but if you haven't, then Depp's immersion in his character is pretty impressive. This isn't just a Hunter S. Thompson impression, mind you (check out this clip to see how good of an impression it is), it is a fairly complex performance that achieves its goals through monologue overdubs and quiet moments. Depp is at his most entertaining here when he is being over the top, but his best work is when he is playing up the drama.
|Visual clues: frowny face vs. googly eyes and open mouth|
|Unlike his habit of listening to Hitler's speeches on vinyl|
|"Hell, yeah, I earned a C+!"|
The Rum Diary was written for the screen and directed by Bruce Robinson, and was his first film work in about a decade. I thought he directed the film well enough. It has a sleazy, grimy feel to it that was rather fitting. He didn't coax out any great performances out of this cast, though, and that surprised me; with characters this eccentric, I would have thought someone would go balls-to-the-wall weird, but they never got much further than "peculiar."
|Ribisi earns a runner-up prize, though|
|"You mean...you don't want to see me stumble around drunk for two hours?"|
The Rum Diary was written at least a decade before Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so it's not surprising that the tone and the requisite Hunter S. Thompson-ish character are significantly different in each. I wish I could stop comparing the two (I suppose I could bring up Where the Buffalo Roam instead), but the two are definitely connected. As the film comes to a close, the audience starts to realize that this Puerto Rico vacation is what prompted
Getting back to my original worries regarding this film, I think it does suffer from too much nostalgia. It's competently made, and there are some pretty entertaining bits here and there, but it lacks purpose and passion. More importantly, it fails to pass on the righteous indignation of its main characters. If the point of making this movie is to show Hunter S. Thompson's transformation from a fairly regular person to the oddball that he became famous for, then I suppose it is somewhat successful. It's just not as entertaining to watch as it would be to try and reenact (the rum and women parts, anyway).