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Review: The Rum Diary

Oct. 27, 2011by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: An American journalist named Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) takes a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico, that's teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. While there, he encounters a former journalist turned land-developer (Aaron Eckhart), and his young, beautiful fiancee (Amber Heard). He also raises hell with a fellow newspaperman, Sala (Michael Rispoli), and finds himself in hot water with the crooked government.

REVIEW: Don't go into THE RUM DIARY expecting FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. That maybe be the way the film is being marketed, but faithful to the posthumously novel by Hunter S. Thompson, it's a totally different beast. While Thompson's story is fictional, it's obvious the story is at-least somewhat autobiographical, as Thompson did spend the early part of his career learning his trade in San Juan (while not drinking copious amounts of run), and this is an intriguing look at the man's beginnings.


It's certainly a more straightforward story than the hallucinogenic FEAR & LOATHING, and director Bruce Robinson (director of the cult-classic WITHNAIL & I) mostly avoids falling into the trap many other filmmakers might have fallen into, as he doesn't imitate Terry Gilliam's whacked-out take on Thompson. That was appropriate for FEAR & LOATHING, but not here.

In a way, THE RUM DIARY can almost be seen as a prequel to FEAR & LOATHING. Johnny Deep is indeed once again playing Thompson (even if the name is different), although a much dialed down version, which suits the material as at this point Thompson hadn't yet started to experiment with hard drugs. Rather, he was a mere alcoholic, capable of the occasional bout of sobriety, and at times Depp plays the character as almost recognizably human.


The majority of the film is concerned with Depp's dealings with the soulless land-developer played by Eckhart, whose attempts to rape the Puerto Rican landscape spark the anti-authoritarian streak that would later define Thompson's writings. There's also a significant romantic subplot involving Kemp's pursuit of Amber Heard's character. This is really one of Heard's better roles, and while the major age-difference between her and Depp is hard to ignore, she's still very good. It's also worth noting that Heard, as always, is rather easy on the eyes, and she's even more drop-dead gorgeous than usual, thanks to Dariusz Wolski's (who also shot SWEENEY TODD and the PIRATES films) crisp visuals.

Good as Heard and Eckhart are, the film is really at it's best during Depp's anarchic adventures with Sala, memorably played by Michael Rispoli. If Kemp is a proto-Thompson, Sala is like an earlier version of Dr. Gonzo, minus the homicidal edge (although, Dr. Gonzo and Thompson were probably one and the same). They've certainly made Rispoli resemble Benicio Del Toro in that film, although Rispoli avoids impersonating Del Toro. In fact, the only serious misstep taken by THE RUM DIARIES is in a brief acid-trip Kemp, and Sala take, which is like something left out of FEAR & LOATHING, at which time both seem to be imitating the performances from that film, which invites unfair comparisons. Let's face it, nothing can compare to FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, and while I suppose Robinson and Depp felt like they were giving the audience what they wanted with this brief scene, it was unnecessary, as they were better off doing their own thing.

That ill-advised (but funny) sequence aside, I really enjoyed THE RUM DIARY, and it even does a good job setting up the legendary second-half of Thompson's career. For Depp, this is a welcome return to the rebellious character actor he used to be (long before he became a billion-dollar savior for Disney), and I'd like to see him continue to explore Thompson's work on-screen. He's the perfect surrogate for the man, and there's a lot more material to use.

Extra Tidbit: I'd love to see Depp do a movie about Thompson's time with the Hells Angels.
Source: JoBlo.com

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+0
2:55PM on 11/01/2011
I have to disagree with you here. This film was an unfocused mess. Here's the full review:

[link]
I have to disagree with you here. This film was an unfocused mess. Here's the full review:

[link]
Your Reply:



5:32PM on 10/27/2011
Glad you enjoyed it! I've been looking forward to this movie for quite sometime now!
Glad you enjoyed it! I've been looking forward to this movie for quite sometime now!
Your Reply:



-3
2:56PM on 10/27/2011

love the book

but this movie looks terribly mediocre, I was really looking forward to it but the trailers just do nothing... hopefully it surprises me later, I'll have to wait to check it out on TV unfortunately. Glad someone liked it though.
but this movie looks terribly mediocre, I was really looking forward to it but the trailers just do nothing... hopefully it surprises me later, I'll have to wait to check it out on TV unfortunately. Glad someone liked it though.
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1:03PM on 10/27/2011

I'm glad you liked it.

The novel is one of my all-time favourites - I discovered it as a teen and actually somewhat prefer it to Fear and Loathing, if only because it seems more personal of a narrative - and I was psyched that Johnny finally got Bruce Robinson to direct it, because "Withnail and I" made him a great candidate.

HOWEVER...the film has been in production hell for years (anyone who likes Thompson should Google an outraged letter he wrote years ago to a then-studio-head in charge of the film, calling
The novel is one of my all-time favourites - I discovered it as a teen and actually somewhat prefer it to Fear and Loathing, if only because it seems more personal of a narrative - and I was psyched that Johnny finally got Bruce Robinson to direct it, because "Withnail and I" made him a great candidate.

HOWEVER...the film has been in production hell for years (anyone who likes Thompson should Google an outraged letter he wrote years ago to a then-studio-head in charge of the film, calling her a bitch, in essence). I was hoping they'd finally gotten things sorted out, but then the film kept getting pushed back, and no images or trailers were released for ages, and everyone involved in production was pretty mum on the subject - except Robinson, who claimed he broke his years of sobriety during production and was drinking a bottle of wine a day. Not always a great sign.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating is pretty middling and Ebert, who I don't always agree with but is usually pretty insightful at least, gave it a mixed review. I'm really hoping I'll like it, but to be honest this review on JoBlo is one of the few I've read that offers more than a casual praising of the film.

If I end up feeling "meh" about the film, I think I'll be heartbroken.
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11:10AM on 10/27/2011
Review has got me even more interested in seeing this now. As for the Extra Tidbit... YES! I read Thompson's Hell's Angels and that would make a great flick! It was an awesome book (And maybe the only one of Thompson's books where HE seemed like the normal guy amongst the crazies.)
Review has got me even more interested in seeing this now. As for the Extra Tidbit... YES! I read Thompson's Hell's Angels and that would make a great flick! It was an awesome book (And maybe the only one of Thompson's books where HE seemed like the normal guy amongst the crazies.)
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10:26AM on 10/27/2011
Glad you gave it a decent review. I enjoyed the book, but it seems like the film is going to deviate a bit from the novel. Which is probably for the best as the book has little to no plot which, while it works to an extent as a book, probably wouldn't sustain a full-length feature.
Glad you gave it a decent review. I enjoyed the book, but it seems like the film is going to deviate a bit from the novel. Which is probably for the best as the book has little to no plot which, while it works to an extent as a book, probably wouldn't sustain a full-length feature.
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9:50AM on 10/27/2011
Good review. I did get the sense of that this was a prequel when I saw the trailers. And yes, this won't compare to Fear and Loathing, but I will be checking this one out.
Good review. I did get the sense of that this was a prequel when I saw the trailers. And yes, this won't compare to Fear and Loathing, but I will be checking this one out.
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