The Rum Diary

9 Jun

Director: Bruce Robinson

Writers: Bruce Robinson (screenplay), Hunter S. Thompson (novel)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi and Aaron Eckhart

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 120 minutes




Every now and then I hear about film projects that instantly get me excited. A recent example is Prometheus that I had been following for 15 months before I saw it last week. I missed The Rum Diary at the cinema, but that was in part because it had a limited, and critically dismantled, run. Still, it has Johnny Depp reviving his Hunter S Thompson impression, last seen in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it is written and directed by Bruce Robinson. That’s excitement enough for me and I am glad to have finally seen it. I am less happy with the quality of film, much the same unfortunately with Prometheus, but hype of any sort can weigh any (average) movie down.

The Hunter S Thompson book The Rum Diary is positioned as auto-biographical in this filmed version with Depp clearly substituting for the young and carefree author / journalist. Depp’s character Paul Kemp is an unpublished author that takes on a frivolous journalism job for a failing newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960. He starts off carefree, cynical and drunken, but exposure to San Juan’s shady business and politics quickly sobers him up. That is the backbone of the film – the main character’s journey that ultimately delivers him railing at the profiteering “bastards” that aim to despoil the beautiful Caribbean island (and so much more).

Bruce Robinson’s first and most successful film was Withnail and I from 1987 and its cult success, especially in the UK, has weighed him down to the extent that The Rum Diary is only his fourth film in 24 years. Withnail is an amazing piece of comedy and pathos and revisited here in part with Giovanni Ribisi’s turn as Moberg, a truly insane alcoholic writer heading for glorious oblivion. His part, like that of the always underestimated Richard Jenkins as the paper’s editor, produces some nice comedic moments and The Rum Diary is very funny at times. There is a great car scene between Depp and Michael Rispoli and a nice voodoo turn late on.

The problem with The Rum Diary is that it is not funny enough. Also, that we have seen Depp as Thompson before in the much more wild and committed Fear and Loathing. There are elements of that craziness here, but they clash with about 3 other ‘stories’ that are crudely layered on top of each other. One of those brings Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard into the film and their acting is poor, especially that of Heard as the love interest. Overall, it’s just a bit of a mess, and the dialogue is hard to pick up at times too! I am disappointed by this one as it starts off with a great premise, the cast is strong and it’s Robinson’s first movie for almost 20 years. What happened guys?

One Response to “The Rum Diary”

  1. Sam June 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    A film with johnny depp is always good, I want to see this!

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