The Rum Diary
A; Drama, Adaptation, Comedy
Cast: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribbisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amaury Nolasco, Richard Jenkins
Director: Bruce Robinson
Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Imagine a scenario where all the main characters are inebriates in one form or the other and you would get Bruce Robinson's 'The Rum Diary.' There is not much of a story to clock but the 1960s setting, the unhinged depiction of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Johny Depp) and his experiences as a gopher in Puerto Rico is charming and involving enough.
It's quite a lucid screen adaptation of Hunter S Thompson's under-developed semi-autobiographical novel written when he was in his early twenties and is therefore distinguished in its effort to portray a world of the past with unflattering finesse.
The story is about excess and how it whittles down intelligence and good judgement. The novel, a first person account by Thompson, unearthed with Depp's help 40 years after it was written, is about hard-nosed American newspapermen exploring their darkest fantasies amidst the upheaval of late 50's Puerto Rico.
It's 1960 in San Juan, a seemingly tropical paradise lorded by US business interests. The locals obviously harbour bitter anti-American sentiment and the fourth estate, in whatever way it exists, occupies the lowest, dirtiest rung of the social ladder. Paul Kemp (Depp) has just arrived to work at the San Juan Star, run by a cantankerous editor (Richard Jenkins). Even before he gets his first print run, Kemp starts rolling with the colourful wastrels of the paper-photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and wild eccentric Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), who likes to experiment with narcotics and listen to old recordings of Hitler's speeches. While Kemp, a rum addict gets sloshed for the better part of the two hours, his colleagues Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moburg (Giovnni Ribisi) are awash with spirits that help them tank down their consciousness of the dysfunctional state of affairs at the paper they work for.
This film isn't a narrative masterpiece in the sense that there isn't a major plot to define the central conceit. Robinson appears quite aware that his material stops way short of content and drama so he confines his best efforts to showcasing the seedy, alcohol drenched atmosphere pivoted by dysfunctional men whose self-belief and confidence are at an all-time low.
Lust, lucre and liquor permeate the narration in excessive abundance. This film may not have the excesses of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' but it sure has enough to trip a few. Johnny Depp's substance abusing scribe routine is common to both. The attempt to give Kemp a radical persona falls flat because the depiction is far too easy going and laid-back. Eckhart plays the flamboyant Sanderson with utmost ease. Amber Heard as the good time girl is suitably definitive. Besides the performances, this film ranks high because of it's artistic exterior. Production designer Chris Seagers does a wonderful job applying 60's touches, Christopher Young's score provides a befitting lilt to the backdrop and Daruisz Wolski's camerawork add greater strength to the unhinged narrative!