MOVIE REVIEW: The Rum Diary
Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard
Be it a crisp island breeze or a stiff cocktail, The Rum Diary is always satisfied with the smaller pleasures in life. Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s long lost novel of the same name, director Bruce Robinson’s long-gestating cinematic adaption has virtually no substantial narrative, relying instead on the smooth groove of its characters cavalier experiences. In fact, the film is so breezy at times it feels like a feature-length vacation for the cast and crew in paradise. But this lack of focus is exactly what makes The Rum Diary an interesting if not unsuccessful experiment in narrative digression. For better or worse, the pressures of traditional storytelling melt away in the hot Caribbean sunshine, leaving the viewer with a series of wacky tangential canals to follow at their own risk.
Johnny Depp returns to the realm of actual acting with his portrayal of Kemp, a downtrodden alcoholic journalist who arrives in Puerto Rico to accept a position at the local newspaper. Instead of job security, Kemp finds perpetual madness both on the streets where native workers are rioting and in his own office as the threat of downsizing and bankruptcy looms large. Part manic participant, part worried observer, Kemp is caught between his drunken impulses and sober rationalizations and Depp balances these two competing personalities wonderfully. Kemp gets introduced to the sweaty and sultry world of San Juan by Sala (Michael Rispoli), the newspaper’s slovenly photographer who understands the economic and social contradictions of the city better than anyone else. Together, they wreak all kinds of havoc, including getting mixed up with a shady local businessman (Aaron Eckhart) and his seductress of a girlfriend (Amber Heard).
Since it exists within the heightened head-space of Thompson’s gonzo world view, The Rum Diary has its fair share of surreal moments. Yet unlike the other famous Thompson film adaptation, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary expresses its rebellious and cavalier attitude through dialogue as opposed to hyper-real visuals. One overt stylistic flourish does stand out: Kemp and Sala take a hallucinogenic drug given to them by decrepit fellow reporter (Giovanni Ribisi in a terrifically nasty turn). As the two friends stare at each other waiting for the drugs to take effect, Robinson’s use of CGI allows the absurdity of the moment to become just another hilarious tangent for the characters and the audience to enjoy.
The real star of The Rum Diary is Johnny Depp’s smirk, which pops up in multiple variations depending on the type of trouble (adultery, violence, drugs) his character experiences. Theese facial tics and manic comedic outbursts are essential to the film’s rhythm, not to mention its cagey attitude toward journalistic integrity and political oppression. If The Rum Diary is ultimately a fleeting experience, lasting as long as a good buzz on a calm Saturday night, it’s still manages to entertain. This is first and foremost a hangout picture, one that allows the audience to experience the madness of many different kinds of cooks going absolutely nowhere fast.