The Rum Diary is an origins story for those familiar with the legend of Hunter S. Thompson. As he did in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Johnny Depp inhabits the Thompson role onscreen with a power and grace that would make his good friend proud.
In The Rum Diary, Depp is Paul Kemp, an aspiring novelist who lands in Puerto Rico to work at a daily newspaper. It is the dawn of the 1960s and Kemp is a writer in search of a voice. He hopes to find it in San Juan, but between his two roommates Oberg (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sala (Michael Rispoli), he is more likely to find trouble than inspiration.
Kemp also gets pulled into an elite social circle led by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his girlfriend (Amber Heard). Sanderson is an American businessman seeking opportunity on the island at the expense of the locals. Smelling a story, Kemp settles into leaving his seedy apartment to visit the wealthy lifestyle that, despite its economic differences, he finds is still soaked in as much rum as his own neighborhood.
As Thompson’s work evolved over the years, one thing became clear to readers amongst all his writings. The novelist and social commentary writer loathed those who seek to horde the riches for themselves. It is in The Rum Diary that fans of Thompson can see that genesis -- as Depp has said of Thompson’s writings: He shot the truth through the gun of a pen. Brilliantly portrayed in the film and through Depp’s pitch-perfect performance, one can easily see the birth and evolution of a genius. Don't miss our chat with Depp on Thompson.
The cast of The Rum Diary is top notch -- from the newspaper's editor (Richard Jenkins), to Eckhart’s rich advantage taker, to Heard's sizzling Grace Kelly-esque turn as Eckhart’s girlfriend. Knocking it out of the park on a whole 'nother level is Ribisi as the Gonzo journalist inspiration that Thompson would become. Kemp’s photographer, as envisioned by Rispoli, is a voice of reason while still serving as the impetus to so much chaos. Rum Diary's supporting players push the envelope of excellence.
And after almost two decades away from Hollywood, director Bruce Robinson breathes such life into the film, Movie Fanatic hopes he doesn't wait another 20 years to make a movie.
His landscapes are simultaneously lush and filled with squalor. Depp's Kemp cannot help but notice the difference between the "bloated" Americans who visit and the natives who service their vacation needs. Early signs of the biting Thompson prose are evident in Depp's narration and in some of the writing he submits to Jenkins at the paper. In one funny sequence, Kemp is to cover a bowling alley event and talk to the vacationing Americans and produces a scathing piece on American manifest destiny that knows no borders.
As one famous film was called The Birth of a Nation, The Rum Diary could be described as “The Birth of a Nation’s Wild-Eyed Conscience.”