Review: The Rum Diary
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.|