But why is the rum gone?

After recently taking in Bruce Robinson’s much anticipated screen adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘ The Rum Diary’, the primary question circling in my head when leaving the cinema was, what if? For if its one thing ‘The Rum Diary’ doesn’t lack, its ambition. However, despite the film having many promising moments, strengths in its acting performances and generally beautiful cinematography, you can’t help but get the feeling it gets lost along the way.

Unless you’re a Hunter S. Thompson aficionado, the most likely reason you’ve heard of the film and may’ve contemplated seeing it, is due to the film’s protagonist and producer, Johnny Depp. A long time champion of Thompson’s work and close personal friend to the late eccentric writer, Depp is seemingly the only logical choice to play his equivalent Paul Kemph and he revels in his opportunity, giving us a wonderfully charming, if at times overly deadpan performance. In fact if it were not for Depp’s alleged retrieval of ‘The Rum Diary’ from a pile of unfinished manuscripts Thompson had been working on and his part in convincing Thompson of its strengths, the book, let alone the film, may never have been subject to public consumption at all.

{{ quote Unlike the stylized hysteria of Gilliam’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, Robinson’s take on ‘The Rum Diary’ feels like a far more measured and diligent approach, yet one undertaken with no less enthusiasm or purpose}}

Knowing this before I saw the film, perhaps hindered my critical perception of it however, as when the film does start to lose its way three quarters of the way through, I couldn’t help but consider that it felt unfinished. I remarked to a friend recently, that at one stage I thought the film would have to continue for hours to reach a worthwhile conclusion, however, considering Thompson’s previous catalogue of work’s, my expectations of a neat and concise ending seem a little naïve to say the least. Unlike the stylized hysteria that Terry Gilliam brought us in his adaptation of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in which Depp also stars, Bruce Robinson’s take on ‘The Rum Diary’ feels like a far more measured and diligent approach, yet one undertaken with no less enthusiasm or purpose.
Based upon Thompson’s own experiences following a rather unsuccessful stint working for a paper in Puerto Rico called the ‘San Juan Star’, the film depicts the eccentric characters he encountered and the wild, rum fuelled escapades they embarked upon during his short lived stay in the region.

There is a vague sense of purpose that develops throughout the film, mainly surrounding Kemp’s lust for Chenault (Amber Heard), the beautiful trophy girlfriend of a businessman corrupted by his insatiable desire for wealth, Sanderson, played by Aaron Eckhart. Through meeting with Sanderson, Kemp eventually embarks upon a personal crusade to expose the corrupt tactics used by Eckhart’s character to defraud the local citizens. Though these ambitions and the fervour with which Kemp pursues them are continually called into question or jeopardised entirely by the copious amounts of both legal and illegal strength rum consumed by him and his companions along the way.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, it still provides many engaging moments, hilarious set pieces and the razor sharp wit within its dialogue, as you’d come to expect from some of Thompson’s best work. One particularly brilliant example of this being, the description of the ‘San Juan Star’s editor Lotterman, played convincingly by Richard Jenkins as a man who had ‘blackheads like braille on his nose’.
An aspect that I don’t normally draw upon when critically reviewing a film, but felt I simply had to following seeing ‘The Rum Diary’, is that Amber Heard as Chenault, is incredibly seductive, with the art and costume teams deserving great credit for making her somewhat indistinguishable from the female stars of a bygone age of Hollywood glamour. Whilst perhaps not yet the most convincing of actresses, she radiates in nearly every scene and in those which include our protagonist, one is left feeling largely physically inadequate, if only for a short while.

In the end the film does feel overly long, with a number of sluggish scenes that could’ve easily been cut spoiling the film’s sometimes frenetic and enthralling pace. The film and the book for that matter conveys a young writer still discovering his style of prose, which would later develop and differ greatly from his earlier works such as this.

Although the film is far from perfect and has a rather unsatisfying conclusion, I’d recommend ‘The Rum Diary’ as an enjoyable portrayal of the bewildering early life of a quite remarkable, if flawed writing talent.


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