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The Rum Diary - Review

The Rum Diary

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

BRUCE (Withnail & I) Robinson’s long-awaited return to directing is a mixed blessing that’s as fun as it is frustrating.

A passion project for its star and producer, Johnny Depp, the film is based on one of Hunter S Thompson’s earliest novels (written, apparently, when he was just 22) after it had been discovered by Depp and Thompson in the latter’s basement.

It follows the fortunes of a young, booze-soaked reporter named Paul Kemp (Depp, playing Thompson in all but name) as he travels to 1960s Puerto Rico to join the local newspaper only to become embroiled in a shady property deal being orchestrated by island entrepreneur Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and falling for the beautiful Chenault (Amber Heard).

In doing so, he also has to contend with the drunken, sometimes drug-induced shenanigans of his reporter colleagues (Michael Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi).
As intriguing as this premise sounds, however, Robinson’s film often feels caught between the director’s attempts to expose the darker side of The American Dream and how it shaped Thompson’s Gonzo years and the need to showcase the main characters’ inebriated activities.

The longer the film lasts, the more the focus shifts from one plot point to the other, resulting in an underwhelming finale that feels every inch a missed opportunity.
En route to this, interesting characters such as Eckhart’s Sanderson and Heard’s intoxicating, beguiling Chenault become lost or, worse, ‘forgotten’ (as in the case of Richard Jenkins’ newspaper editor), while the comic likes of Rispoli and Ribisi begin to dominate.

Depp is at his charismatic best throughout and keeps the film watchable, even when misbehaving, while Robinson ensures that there’s plenty of witty word-play to accompany some of the slapstick.

He even maintains that his intention was more to keep people laughing rather than present any definitive version of Thompson’s book or Thompson’s life.

But while The Rum Diary does indeed amuse (and features several laugh out loud moments), it does eventually lose its way and lacks the cynicism or focus that would have made it truly special.

Given the talents of just about everyone involved that has to rate as a disappointment… albeit an entertaining one at that.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 120mins
UK Release Date: November 11, 2011