WRITTEN BY: Bruce Robinson
DIRECTED BY: Bruce Robinson
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard
RATING: 3 stars
When in doubt, drink alcohol. That's the motto of The Rum Diary, but considering the title, I suppose that makes sense. It's a film that looks like it might actually be going somewhere in the first half, but by Act II, you realise there really isn't a point, which is what we expect from Hunter S. Thompson. The Rum Diary was written by Thompson when he was 22 years old in 1959 and is based loosely on his own experiences. But the novel was not published until 1998 when Johnny Depp found the manuscript while he was staying with Thompson in preparation for his role in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, which was also written by Thompson.
The Rum Diary tells the story of alcoholic journalist Paul Kemp (Depp) who takes a job at a struggling newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico where his editor has him writing tourist pieces and horoscopes. Paul moves into a rundown apartment with a photographer named Sala (Michael Rispoli), who makes extra cash by fighting cocks, and out-of-favour journalist Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), who's brain has been fried from too much booze. Paul also meets Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a wealthy entrepreneur, who employs him to flack for some investors planning to buy an island to build a resort. But then Paul begins to lust after Sanderson's girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), which complicates things for him. When he and Sala get into some trouble with the locals, a Carnival dance goes horribly wrong and the newspaper crumbles further, there seems to be nothing else for Paul to do but drink.
The Rum Diary is more coherent than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and is also a more conventional film. Writer and director, Bruce Robinson, has adapted Thompson's work with some changes to the plot and characters, which might annoy die hard fans, but it was probably a necessity considering the depth of the novel that would require too much screen time - the film is already two hours long as it is. There are some fantastic one-liners and witty dialogue like: "Do not confuse love with lust, nor drunkenness with judgment" as well as some borderline offensive hilarity like: "There's no such thing as a liberal. A liberal is a commie with a college education thinking Negro thoughts."
Depp was a close friend of Thompson and you can see he really enjoys playing characters from his books who are based on him. Depp is charming, kooky and witty in The Rum Diary. Eckhart is also brilliant as a jerk, Heard is as seductive as a woman can be and Rispoli is entertaining. But it's Ribisi who steals the show with his constant stream of humour. There is one particular scene in which he merely sits in a chair and listens to a record of Adolf Hitler making an impassioned speech. It's ridiculously funny and brilliant.
Unfortunately, the film has some problems - most importantly, its ending. The main conflict remains unresolved and the story doesn't really feel finished. Thompson always had a habit of writing about nothing but he always did it with humour and zest. This film adaptation didn't feel quite as fulfilling. An attempt to provide some closure at the end with a caption is also unsatisfying.
Fans of the Gonzo journalist will enjoy The Rum Diary and Depp is worth seeing in his passion project, but the film is certainly not for everyone.