Based on a book by a famous American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary is a somewhat successful translation of an engaging novel. It seems that Johnny Depp cannot play a normal guy, so he reprises his role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (also based on a novel by the same author). I think that this character required a more serious face, but what can you do. The rest of the cast was great, with the accent on phenomenal Giovanni Ribisi as an alcoholic journalist Moburg. We also get an opportunity to see beautiful Amber Heard, the girl who stole Johnny’s heart on the set of this movie.
I have to admit that I’m quite partial when it comes to nihilistic characters drinking themselves into oblivion. Although that’s not my preferred method of oblivionation, I can certainly understand the drive. The Death Drive that is. Add to this a hot girl, stunning beach location, and a bit of intrigue and I’m in! If Oliver Stone’s Salvador was too gritty and unpolished for you, The Rum Diary will be a much better choice. And just for the record, although Salvador is a good movie I simply could not finish it.
However, the thing I liked the most about it is the refreshing perspective of an ordinary man. An ordinary man with his own set of troubles just trying to do what he can. This also means you shouldn’t expect some overarching narrative or anything like that. The Rum Diary is not based on a true story, although parts of it are true. Thompson wrote the novel back in the sixties but he never published it. It was Depp who found it in his basement, published it, and pushed for a big-screen adaptation.
Paul Kemp is a freelance journalist who finds himself in Puerto Rico, about to start working for a run-down paper. All of the staff are heavy alcoholics, and Kemp is one of them, blends in perfectly in this bleak world. And beyond that bleak world, there are beautiful beaches, hotels, and attractive women. Sanderson a local player, who used to be a reporter, introduces himself to Kemp planning to use him in one of his schemes, but what he didn’t know is that his girlfriend, beautiful Chenault, is the one that made Kemp stick around. In a hectic world of rum, drugs, corruption, and lack of money Kemp feels overpowered and seeks inspiration in his struggle against those who are “Bastards”.
The Rum Diary is an entertaining blend of comedy, drama, and romance worth watching. It is a bit longer with a running time of two hours but the appealing visuals and quirky story make up for that. It’s similar to all those seventies and eighties movies where the lead character is this rebel staying above the situation but still hanging in there, secretly hoping for a better outcome. All the while knowing almost for certain that the world is this fucked up place that’s unlikely to change for a while.
The Rum Diary is also an opportunity to see Johnny Depp just before he started making bad movies. And not just that because the story follows a young journalist looking for something more than clickbait. Hopefully, people will return to this long-form style of reporting, following in the footsteps of Matt Taibbi for example.
Director: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi
Fun Facts: Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt, Josh Hartnett and Nick Nolte were originally slated to appear.