Review: The Rum Diary

If you're going to be adapting any of Hunter S. Thompson's work, the man you want on your side is Johnny Depp. After his phenomenal turn in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Depp seemed the obvious casting choice for the lead in Thompson's The Rum Diary. Here we're told the story of an American journalist, working for a declining newsrag in Puerto Rico in the midst of ensuing revolution.

Director, Bruce Robinson's makes no mistakes casting Depp as the heavy drinking, 30-something journalist and his charismatic performance is without a doubt the main reason this film is worth seeing. Being a friend of Thompson, Depp seems to engage and connect with the man's characters in a way that I don't think most actors could. We see dark flairs of humour throughout as Depp captures the'gonzo spirit' behind Thompson's work. There's wonderful chemistry with Michael Rispoli, who shows himself to be a talented actor in the colorful supporting role of Sala, one of the other journalists.

Unfortunately, despite some solid performances, The Rum Diary is bogged down by an unfocused narrative with too many loose ends and a bloated run time. It feels more like a collection of several loosely connected incidents with the occasional entertaining moment chucked in. The plot jumps from Paul Kemp working with shady businessman (Entertainingly played by Aaron Eckhart), to romancing his young girlfriend (the striking Amber Heard), to several drunken incidents and working at the paper. Robinson clearly shows a strong flair for comedy and directing the actors but unfortunately, struggles to keep the narrative controlled and engaging.
This lack of engagement and focus, eventually leads to the film becoming slightly boring, making the two hour run time feel far longer.

I'd be lying if I said the film was all boring, there are some amusing scenes with the temperamental newspaper editor (Richard Jenkins at his scene-stealing best) or when Kemp and Sala visit a voodoo priestess who blesses their fighting chicken. And it certainly looks nice, Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is beautiful and makes strong use of the breathtaking Puerto Rican locations. Given the nature of Thompson's works that I have read - I couldn't help but feel that the film felt too 'Hollywood'. The film's ending when Kemp tries to motivate the writers to save the paper just didn't click with my thoughts on Thompson and so the climax of the film fell flat for me. Thompson isn't one of these 'Yay let's save the world!' writers, so Kemp's actions felt slightly out of place.

The Rum Diary is glossy and it looks nice but lacks the script and edge to make it truly exciting or memorable. Johnny Depp's performance is solid and possibly the one reason the film is worth seeing.

Rating: 2.5/5

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