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Movie Review: The Rum Diary

GK Films

The Rum Diary (R)

Starring: Johnny Depp and Michael Rispoli
Directed by Bruce Robinson

The latest Johnny Depp pet project is going to delight fans of Hunter S. Thompson, the self-proclaimed ‘Gonzo Journalist’, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to disappoint Depp’s long-cultivated female fandom and high school boys wearing eye-liner.

Set in Puerto Rico during the early 60’s, Paul Kemp (Depp) gets hired by the down-and-going-out newspaper San Juan Star, to write the horoscopes. Befriended by the paper’s only photographer, Bob Salas (Rispoli), they careen through one rum bottle after another, and get into more and more trouble. Aaron Eckhardt (The Dark Knight) convincingly pulls off Sanderson, a sleazy and wealthy land developer that latches on to the wayward journalist for his writing prowess. Kemp quickly spirals out of control on his way to a love affair with Sanderson’s girlfriend, Chenault, played coyly and sex-kittenish by Amber Heard (Pineapple Express) and gets entangled in the socio-political struggles of both the Puerto Rican nationals and his ill-fated employer.

The movie pulls quite a bit from Thompson’s novel drawn from his experiences on the island during the Eisenhower era. It gives Depp another chance to channel Uncle Duke on the screen. The adaptation has a familiar feel and if you’ve seen ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ you’ll recognize the mannerisms and the vocal tone from Depp and the Salas character is reminiscent of Dr. Gonzo. Even the exploits are similar.

But don’t go if you’re swooning for the suave and debonair Depp, though his character can seemingly conjure that man if need be during the film… and if an heroic take on a Caribbean adventure is what you’re craving from this flick, forget it. There are some very dark underlying issues like native exploitation, resource depletion, the decay of journalistic ethics, and there’s a general displeasure with the American persona as a whole. The raw terse tone that is prevalent in all of Hunter S. Thompson’s work is presented in an unapologetic fashion.

Like HST’s columns in Rolling Stone and his books, the dialogue is quick, at times semi-Shakespearean and there are lots of good laughs. The scenery is lush and the prop and wardrobe departments did a great job of recreating the timeline.

Trivia: Depp told MTV it was a ‘love letter to Hunter’. 12 years in the making, the project was pitched by Thompson and Depp to a Hollywood exec in a tiki hut with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pit fire nearby.
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