‘The Rum Diary’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated December 12th, 2014 at 9:49 pm,

Johnny Depp The Rum Diary Review The Rum Diary Review

The Rum Diary manages to successfully capture the spirit of the source material – even if the result is a scattered piece of filmmaking.

For anyone familiar with writer Hunter S. Thompson, it’s especially appropriate that actor Johnny Depp is headlining the author’s latest novel-turned-film adaptation, The Rum Diary – as both men are known for especially intense (and bizarre) work ethics. Depp portrays some of the most oddball and intricate characters in Hollywood and Thompson is credited as the founder of Gonzo Journalism – an approach to reporting where the writer actually tosses objectivity (and sometimes fact) out the window and directly engages with the various lifestyles and personalities at the center of a story (to get at a larger “truth”).

However, does the film version of Paul Kemp, the fictional main character in The Rum Diary who also becomes enveloped in his job, offer an intriguing and cinematic look at the printed source material as well as make use of the stable of filmmaking talent that brought the movie to the screen?

Fortunately The Rum Diary is mostly an entertaining adaptation of Thompson’s story – though, much like the book, few of Kemp’s actual adventures work together to build a cohesive narrative. Instead, the film plays out like a series of “moments” – which, by the end, may not provide the kind of payoff that some moviegoers might be expecting. We accept this kind of division in books, as we relish in the written language, but there isn’t enough visual flair in The Rum Diary to ultimately work the same magic on screen.

Johnny Depp Michael Rispoli The Rum Diary The Rum Diary Review

Johnny Depp and Michael Rispoli traveling around San Juan

The Rum Diary adaptation, for anyone loosely familiar with the book, follows the fictional character (and journalist) Paul Kemp as he tires of his life in New York and travels to San Juan, Puerto Rico to work as a reporter (Thompson also worked as a San Juan journalist during the 1960s). Kemp exemplifies Thompson’s penchant for reporters who get too caught up in the stories they are chasing – as the fresh-off-the-plane American quickly engages in a series of outrageous and drunken misadventures. However, despite his penchant for drinking, Kemp is sought out by Hal Sanderson, a local businessman (played by Aaron Eckhart) who wants to use the writer’s talents for an enterprise that isn’t strictly legal. His time with Sanderson also puts Kemp in close proximity with the business tycoon’s fiancé, Chenault (Amber Heard) – who is especially alluring to the reporter.

Depp carries the project with his usual knack for quirky characters and comedic timing but the overarching film gets bogged down by attempting to provide film versions of the most pivotal (and a few psychedelic) scenes from the novel – even if they have little meaning in the context of the storyline that is put at center stage by the filmmakers. As a result, given the lack of a cohesive through line, it’s not surprising that The Rum Diary is actually the first film from director Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) in 19 years (he also wrote the screenplay). Disappointing critical reaction to his last two projects caused him to withdraw and focus on writing instead.

This isn’t to say that The Rum Diary is a failure, because it’s actually an enjoyable film – but the movie falls short of either a profound adaptation of Thompson’s book (mind bending warts and all) or a dumbed down version with a clear narrative focus. As a result, Robinson’s attempt at finding a middle ground for The Rum Diary robs the story of much of its original insight while also failing to deliver a satisfying progression of interconnected events.

Amber Heard Johnny Depp The Rum Diary The Rum Diary Review

Chenault (Amber Heard) and Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) in ‘The Rum Diary’

As mentioned, Depp offers a solid performance as Kemp that, in spite of all the rum drinking, bears little resemblance to his all-too-familiar Jack Sparrow shtick. The actor still gets a number of cartoonish moments (as a result of his circumstances) but for the most part, offers a solid focal point in a film that features a myriad of oddball characters running around. The chemistry between Chenault and Kemp is surprisingly tender, given that the story revolves around a “love at first sight” motif – and Heard, in spite of limited screen time, manages to showcase a couple of different sides to her character. That said, despite what audiences will see on screen (as a result of the performances), the relationship between the two characters is given very little time to develop, and by the end, entirely bypasses any emotion or fallout from the various situations the pair endures. There are very few “tough conversations” in The Rum Diary – as many altercations devolve into passive aggression or happen entirely off screen.

Most of the other performances get the job done, but despite a rich source material, appear as merely quirky caricatures in the final film: Aaron Eckhart’s Hal Sanderson is a smooth-talking but greedy businessman that owns a bedazzled turtle, Giovanni Ribisi’s Moberg is a filthy drunkard who listens to records of Hitler speeches, and Richard Jenkins’ Edward J. Lotterman is a no-nonsense newsman who is extra sensitive about his toupee. As book characters, the characters grow and reform in our minds (as Thompson fleshed them out page after page) but, in the film world, they don’t change or offer additional insight – instead, they merely act as springboards that push Kemp in different directions. Only Michael Rispoli’s portrayal of a fellow reporter, Bob Sales, offers a unique and compelling addition to the main cast – providing some of the film’s most entertaining moments.

The Rum Diary may be a tough sell – as fans of the book will likely find that the film fails to capture some of the more profound ideas presented in the printed version and adult audiences looking for an entertaining trip to the movie theater may find the overarching story to be somewhat unsatisfying by the end. However, with a number of intriguing performances (specifically Depp and Rispoli), The Rum Diary manages to successfully capture the spirit of the source material – even if the result is a scattered piece of filmmaking.

If you’re still on the fence about The Rum Diary, check out the trailer below:

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below:

The Rum Diary is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. Johnny Deep is no longer a movie theatre draw for me. Hard to get intrested in anything in it when I see he’s starring.

    • How come?

      • His performances IMO are becoming more and more the same. They all have an ecentric side to them so I feel like im getting the same person in different films.

        Public Enemies was great. It did not feel as much of a Depp performance of Dillenger. The Tourist on the other hand delt very much Depp on screen. Although that was a bad movie altogether.

        • His performance in Public Enemies shows he’s a good actor,but he obviously get roles that maybe they just think he’s the man for the job which he does brilliantly.

          • Yes. He is defiantely a great actor. I would never dispute that. 

            It just feels like he has been riding the same one trick pony. Especially with another classic film in process of being Tim Burton-ized and Depp as an age old Vampire, I already know what kind of performance I will be getting. 

            My only advice for him is to fire his agent and go back to getting (or playing the) roles nobody expects to see a familiar performance.

            • Well, then again, there are very big differences between Edward Scizzorhands, Ed Wood, Ichabod Crane, Willy Wonka, Victor Van Dort, Sweeney Todd, and the Mad Hatter.

    • I want to share an experience with you, yes, you who may take the time to read what I write here tonight about the Rum Diary. I want to share with you an experience that you are all-too familiar with, one that leads everyone to the same inevitable feelings and the same ultimate conclusion; sometimes you just have to let go.

      You know how it feels when you have been constipated for a day or so and you go to a family event with home cooking? Cooking that only your own family can make, that just thrills your hungry mind even when your body is on the fritz; you know that kind? You are stuffed full, dying to release the cramping, bloated, backed-up-almost-painful and then; it happens. With instantaneous vociferousness a miracle wave of undulating delight and voila! You get relief. The kind that makes your brain release dopamine while you are on the toilet. After twenty minutes, when you think you are done, in fact know you are and all you can think to do is to take one look, one single glance as you rise at the enormity of turd that must lie in the bottom of the bowl.

      With that experience comes pleasure even if you had to look at sh_t to get it. I’ll save you the trauma of experiencing an non-pleasurable viewing of sh_t without the pleasing parts by saying, “don’t waste your time with this gigantic, turd.”

      Amber Heard is gorgeous, has smile that says “I am serious fun” but aside from her there is nothing about this movie even remotely comparable to a nice, big, steamy turd. If she had not been in this movie I would have smashed the Net Flix disk, written something vile on the jacket like, “take this disk and shove it up your a_._ Hollywood!”

      My 2 cents.

  2. eh i’ll still see it, i liked his performance in fear and loathing enouth for me to wan’t to see him don another hunter s thompson character again

    • this movie really nice~~You can watch this and so MANY High quality FREE movies online here!

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  3. Enough Depp already.

    • Yes. How dare he continue to work! (sarcasm)

  4. I like Depp as an actor but this film had zero appeal to me; I would put it on the same level as The Tourist, which also had zero appeal to me. If the trailers don’t capture my interest, I won’t be shelling out hard-earned cash to be disappointed.

  5. i mean….it was alright but.. things just happen..

  6. i shuda seen puss in boots

  7. I hated this movie. It was so bad that it has almost ruined Thompson’s writing and the Fear and Loathing movie for me. It was awful. Don’t see it.

  8. 2 hours of my life i will never get back. nice locations but a dreadful film.

    I normally like Depp but here it was just self absorbed tripe. Disjointed and with an abrupt ending.

    Cheaper and more enjoyable to build 5l of emulsion, apply it to a wall and just watch it dry.

  9. Somebody essentially lend a hand to make significantly articles I’d state. This is the very first time I frequented your website page and so far? I surprised with the research you made to create this actual post amazing. Great activity!

  10. This review is absolutely spot on. exactly how I felt after the movie.

  11. I read the book and loved it. I immediately rented the movie and hated it. I love Johnny Depp and enjoy his portrayals in film, however, this movie didn’t follow the book at all. It deleted one of the main characters of the book (Yeamon) and with it, an interesting storyline. They could have made the movie a bit longer and incorporated more characters. At least putting the lover’s triangle of Kemp/Chenault/Yeamon in the movie would have added depth to the story.

  12. I was rather disappointed with this movie, as I was with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. These two movies do little to capture the true essence of each book, the true meaning. I was quite turned off by the point of the *spoiler alert* LSD scene in the film. Why the screenwriter threw that in is beyond me, unless it was some jaded tribute to Fear and Loathing. In my humble opinion it was a cheap trick to cash in on a cult franchise.
    Until there is a screen writer who can actually understand what a Thompson novel really means the film adaptations should stop. They are wholly disappointing.
    That being said, Depp really does capture Thompson’s personality, and this is one of the film’s few redeeming qualities.