Film Review: The Rum Diary

Whatever the varying opinions on Johnny Depp may be, one thing is for sure, his heart is in the right place.

After stumbling upon the manuscript for Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary in 1998, Johnny Depp convinced the author to publish it after it had been left to gather dust for over thirty years.

Depp even persuaded Thompson to sell the movie rights, and coaxed Bruce Robinson out of semi-retirement to write and direct the film. The Rum Diary is without a doubt a labour of love. Which leads us to the all important question – was it worth it? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding, sort of.

Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Rum Diary tells the story of Paul Kemp (Depp), a writer who travels to Puerto Rico to write for the local newspaper, The San Juan Star. Not long after arriving there, Kemp is immersed in the island’s alcohol drenched lifestyle, and falls in love with Chenault (Amber Heard), the fiancé of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a wealthy entrepreneur.

One thing that is made resoundingly clear from the start of The Rum Diary is that we should forget all about the lunatic Depp portrayed in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Kemp is a young, inexperienced man still in search of his “writer’s voice”, which many a young writer watching will have complete empathy for. However inevitable comparisons between The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing could prove to be the films biggest flaw, as Fear and Loathing wins without even having to break sweat.

There are a lot of things this film gets right. Bruce Robinson’s script is sharp and very witty, and his directing style emulates that of a regular worker than that of someone who hasn’t sat in a director’s chair since 1992. Johnny Depp does do a good job in the lead role, showing us his natural flair for comic acting while not giving up on his character’s depth and heart in the process. Also keep an eye out for Giovanni Ribisi as the wacky journalist Moberg, whose show-stealing performance will evoke memories of the grotesque eccentricities in Robinson’s Withnail and I.

Apart from Kemp and Moberg however, the rest of the characters aren’t much to write home about. This is fairly egregious, especially in the case of Chenault, the woman that wins over Paul Kemp’s heart. Amber Heard does a good job with what she’s given, but considering the importance of the character in this coming-of-age story, you do expect more from her than just someone classically beautiful twirling in pretty dresses.

Overall, this is a very witty light hearted film that deserves a lot of plaudits, but the inevitable comparisons to the source material and Fear and Loathing will mean that The Rum Diary will fall short of what’s expected from the people involved. That, unfortunately, really is a crying shame.

About the Author
Eric Wood is 20 years old from Bury in Greater Manchester and is currently studying Journalism and English Literature at Salford University. Eric is in the process of writing and directing his first short film entitled How Are You Sleeping. He absolutely adores all forms of writing. His biggest role model for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton wrote novels, non-fiction, screenplays and directed movies. Eric says he would love to be able to achieve all of these things in his lifetime.

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About Eric Wood

Eric Wood is 21 years old, from Bury in Greater Manchester, and a graduate of Salford University where he studied Journalism and English Literature. His first novel comes out later in the year, and he begins work directing his first feature length movie in the summer. Eric absolutely adores all forms of writing and loves movies so he’s the ideal film critic. His greatest inspiration for many years has been Michael Crichton, as Crichton has written novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and directed movies. Eric would love to be able to achieve all of those things in my lifetime.
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