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The Rum Diary



Released: November 11th 2011 (UK)

Directed By: Bruce Robinson

Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart

Certificate: 15 (UK)

Reviewed By: Wayne Callaghan

The story goes that Johnny Depp found the manuscript of The Rum Diary at Hunter S. Thompson’s Colorado Cabin and from there held it until he could get it published and subsequently made into a feature film. As I haven’t read the book, my review won’t draw from it or weigh up how faithful it is to the original storyline.

We follow Johnny Depp’s character Paul Kemp, a writer who has a very colourful past and is struggling to hold a job down and stay sober. He arrives in Puerto Rico after applying for a post at the San Juan Star and being the only applicant for the job at the ailing newspaper he is taken on and given the job of horoscope writer amongst other things. We follow him on a series of misadventures around the area as he uncovers and becomes embroiled in a property scam making some very nasty people very wealthy at the locals’ expense. Now this is all evident from the trailer and I was hoping it would throw up something new and fresh like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas did but alas it’s a little pedestrian in comparison.

Johnny Depp plays the lead role adequately and you can see glimpses of the magic he has brought to so many films in this performance, but I felt he played it very safe for an actor so used to taking risks which is disappointing from an audience point of view.

His support is strong, his side-kick Salas (Michael Rispoli), his nemesis Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his Editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) are all good and give credence to their roles. The true stars of the film for me however are the following; Giovanni Ribsi who plays Moburg, the Political correspondent who has been fired and rehired from the paper on an almost weekly basis and who by rights should be dead after the amount of rum, hooch and drugs he has consumed (he is more like Depp from Fear and Loathing than Depp in this movie!) and finally Amber Heard (who plays Chenault the femme fatale) is, as well as being flawlessly beautiful, proving a very competent actress given the right roles.

The failing of this film falls squarely on the script which at best is weak and struggles to find a rhythm, staggering from one drunken set piece to another leaving the viewer with a hangover to match Moburg’s after some 400% proof hooch.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are some glorious ‘laugh out loud’ parts, just not enough of them and some that aren’t even intentional. The back stories are not handled well and the message of the little man overcoming all odds is lost and doesn’t get through as it’s to bogged down trying to be overly funny and stylish.

So we come to the Director and screen writer Bruce Robinson, here is a man that has given us classics such as With Nail and I and How to Get a Head in Advertising, who also wrote the screen play for the harrowing film ‘The Killing Fields’, so why did this film go wrong?

The direction is good, the film has texture and feels rich with colour, which is in no small part to the beautiful setting, but as I touched on before, it is all on a very mediocre script that drip feeds the laughs at an alarmingly slow rate, mutes some very funny characters and loses its way entirely in its quest to give us a meaningful message and ending. Hunter S. Thompson may well be turning in his grave or he may have been right to bury this manuscript at his home hoping no one would ever find it.

We have a labour of love for our star Depp that fails in the one area a Hunter S. Thompson piece should excel- the story… I may now read the book just to see, who knows it may alter my view.

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