Review of The Rum Diary


Movie Review: The Rum Diary

Rating: R

Release Date: October 28, 2011

Directed by: Bruce Robinson

Genre: Comedy, Drama, and Romance

Johnny Depp takes a second crack at a character penned by Hunter S. Thompson as Paul Kemp in 'The Rum Diary.' Kemp is loosely based on famed "gonzo" journalist and writer Thompson himself. The book was written when Thompson was just 22 years old and had not quite invented his famous public persona. The bulk of the movie is spent portraying these exploratory, hard-drinking years before Thompson discovered drugs other than alcohol.

The movie follows Kemp as he applies for his first jobs as a copy editor and writer. He is summarily fired from several for such acts as insubordination. In these scenes the audience gets a glimpse of the attitude that would never quite leave Thompson and helped fuel some of his better work. If the intent of the movie was to make viewers understand where Thompson came from, then it succeeded wildly.

After these unsuccessful forays into the world of newspapers, Kemp decides to move to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he meets Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). He is the editor of the San Juan Star and hires Kemp as a reporter because he is the only person who actually applied for the job. Kemp describes his coworkers there as "degenerates," which is meant as a compliment. Kemp being something of a degenerate himself, he feels like he has found a home.

Kemp fits in perfectly with his coworkers like photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and reporter Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi). The movie never makes clear how many reporters the newspaper actually has, but Kemp seems to be the only one who had to turn in daily work. He has to find something to write about when not finding himself at the bottom of a bottle of rum. This brings him to the story of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a rich American who has made some questionable land deals that defrauded native Puerto Ricans.

Instead of trying to get rid of the nosy reporter, Sanderson decides to see Kemp's snooping as an opportunity. If he can get Kemp to write stories about the deals with a positive spin, it could keep Sanderson out of trouble. With this in mind, he attempts to bribe the morally questionable Kemp with a red corvette and his beautiful mistress Chenault (Amber Heard).

The story continues as Chenault seems to fall for the degenerate reporter as he continues his life of debauchery. There are some vague moments where the audience is led to believe that Kemp truly cares for the Puerto Ricans that Sanderson is exploiting. This is the part of Kemp that Chenault appears to be attracted to. The conclusion to both the romance and the shady property deal storylines may surprise and even challenge the audience.

Those who have seen 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' will be familiar with the character Depp is playing, since both movies are based on different parts of Thompson's life. Director Bruce Robinson does a good job of trying to live up to the visual haze of the first film. For some, seeing 'The Rum Diary' before 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' may help them better understand Thompson's life and how he became the man the public remembers him as. No matter which order they see the movies in, they will still be entertained by 'The Rum Diary.' Depp turns in his usual great performance while Ribisi steals several scenes as the eternally acid-tripping Moberg. The beauty of Puerto Rico is also not lost in the movie, even though it seems lost on the characters as they drunkenly spend their days debauching themselves. Who knew watching such depravity could be beautiful and entertaining all at once?