Drinking, drugs, sex, fun and writing; these were the five words that Hunter S. Thompson lived by. For years he traveled the world, ingesting copious amounts of illegal narcotics, drinking until he blacked out, and then wrote about it the next day with a hangover and a Bloody Mary. He was a man’s man, with a very straightforward love for guns, and an even more straightforward hate for Richard Nixon. Thompson was never afraid to voice his not-so-humble opinions. He wrote many novels and memoirs, most notably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell’s Angels, but early in his career, while residing in Puerto Rico, he wrote the novel, The Rum Diary.
Following a journalist named Paul Kemp, the semi-autobiographical novel wasn’t published until much later in his career. Many claimed the novel has no plot and is reflective of a pre-Gonzo Thompson; in other words, a less interesting one. I’ve not read the novel, but after viewing the film, I can make a prediction and say that I’d have to disagree.
The Rum Diary, as I mentioned before, follows a journalist named Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) who, after moving to Puerto Rico, gets involved in publicizing a real estate deal with a man named Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who happens to be a former writer at the newspaper that Paul writes for. Paul also begins to fall in love with Sanderson’s girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard). With the help of his two friends Sala (Michael Rispoli), a fellow writer, and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), a former writer and current junkie, Kemp plans to revamp the dying Puerto Rican newspaper. Richard Jenkins plays Lotterman, their overworked, overstressed, and hairless boss perfectly, bringing in all the laughs in the scenes that he’s in.
I’ll be honest I quite enjoyed The Rum Diary. After reading the surprisingly negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I was very discouraged from seeing it, despite anticipating its release for almost three years. The odd thing about this film though, is the rarity that occurred prior to my viewing. Usually, I do superfluous amounts of research, sometimes to the point where I know exactly what’s going to happen in the film before I actually go and watch it. Before this film, though, I had seen no previews, read no press articles, and almost no reviews save for the Tomato-meter score. Coming from me, that’s quite the achievement.
Regardless of my lack of preparation before the actual film, I really liked the scenery, the music, the camerawork, the lighting, etc. The visuals were all great, as was the acting from everybody involved, and the writing by Bruce Robinson, who also directed the film. Depp, who is a longtime fan and close friend of the late Hunter S. Thompson, was the person who ultimately funded the book’s publication, and much of the film adaptation. He clams that this film was “a love letter” to Hunter, and made it to honor his memory. He also says that he’d play Hunter as long as parts kept appearing.
The film as a whole is extremely low-key. The drug trips are kept to a bare minimum, the drinking is as expected, but rather than focusing on the partying, it focuses on a journalist torn between artistic integrity, the girl he loves, and getting a big story in Puerto Rico. As a writer, I found it a very fascinating complex to have, and it most definitely kept me entertained for the 119 minute running time. The Rum Diary is most definitely not for everyone, but as a Puerto Rican, I loved the scenery, and as a writer, I loved the story.