Review: The Rum Diary

This is the second Hunter S. Thompson film Johnny Depp has starred in but it is neither a sequel nor a prequel to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

The Rum Diary, based on Thompson’s novel of the same name, tells the story of Paul Kemp, a journalist looking to make a new start in Puerto Rico with the local paper. As the title subtly hints though, Kemp’s drinking gets the better of him leading him to trouble with the local law as well as becoming entangled in a dodgy business venture.

Most critics are suggesting that this film is a rip roaring success and is a laugh a minute but while there are laughs it is not quite a full-blown comedy. Giovanni Ribisi steals any and all laughs as Moberg, the sleazy correspondent who is either drunk, high or appreciating the speeches of Hitler. Depp does well, as ever, as the swanky young journo but this feels more like one of his standard high-quality performances rather than a full comedic role or an Oscar attempt.

Shot on location there are some beautiful birds eye views of the Puerto Rican beaches, islands and forests.  It all comes down to getting a sense of the place. Everyone is sweating in this film, you can feel the humidity. Alongside this there is the constant flipping between lavish beach houses with roadster cars and the crumbling apartments with rusted motorbikes giving a sense of how the rich and the poor live so differently, side by side.

One fact which would draw potential crowds is that this film is directed by Bruce Robinson; the man who wrote and directed Withnail & I in the 80s. However, there is very little of his dry British humour so you wouldn’t know he was involved in the film unless you recognised the name.

What is most disappointing about the film is how it handles the subject at its heart: Journalism. The closing of newspapers and print journalism is more relevant than ever but it is passed over in a heartbeat with only two scenes set in the news room. We never see any reporting or photographing by anyone despite all the main characters working on a busy newspaper.

In the end the fate of the paper isn’t even secondary. We see nothing of any impact or insight regarding journalism – then or now – and Paul Kemp literally rides off into the sunset with relative ease.           

Although entertaining, the film becomes a throw-away vehicle for Johnny Depp to grin and look handsome in rather than the stinging revelation it could be. This is all well and good for the occasional movie goer but for some of us there is far more meat to be washed down by the rum.

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