RUM DIARY, THE
Itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) travels to the island of Puerto Rico to write for the San Juan Star, run by downtrodden editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the wildly attractive Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a businessman involved in shady property development deals. One of a growing number of American entrepreneurs determined to convert Puerto Rico into a capitalist paradise, Sanderson recruits Kemp to write favorably about his latest corrupt scheme. Meanwhile, the San Juan Star and its few remaining workers, such as photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and resident drunk Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), are facing bankruptcy.
Review by Louise Keller:
You can smell the debauchery in this rum-soaked Caribbean paradise where truth plays tug-of-war against complacency. Greed, lust and the incongruous are pitted together in this seductive search for redemption through ink and rage. The story is based on an unpublished manuscript by the late, controversial Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson that recalls a colourful chapter of his life in 1960, during a stint in Puerto Rico at the San Juan Star newspaper. It is easy to imagine an intense, alcohol-fuelled evening back in 1990, when Johnny Depp, while visiting his close friend Thompson, came across the diaries and decided together to shape it into both a novel and a film. Although Thompson died in 2005, we intuitively feel as though the resulting film is something of which he would have approved. It's a heady tale with seductive elements and Depp waltzes brilliantly into the tailor-made role.
Our first glimpse of Paul Kemp (Depp), new recruit on the San Juan Star, reveals a nasty blood-shot eye that is obviously the result of a serious hangover. A hotel bar fridge is lying fatally on its side and Kemp's feeble attempt to convince the hotel room service waiter otherwise when he says 'I tend to avoid all alcohol,' is countered, when he feebly adds 'when I can.' In the midst of his Friday crisis (locals are throwing tomatoes at the publishing front door), the frenzied Star editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins with a rug), is equally astute in recognizing Kemp's condition behind dark shades. The failing newspaper's circulation is obviously due to lack of commitment by its motley staff and too much self-indulgence. It is clear that everyone has a drinking problem in San Juan and for good reason: the locals are not always friendly and Kemp's predecessor came to a sticky end.
These wonderful establishment scenes are the groundwork for the reality into which we are sucked. Kemp's new colleagues are all struggling and troubled. Michael Rispoli is superb as Sala, the photographer with whom Kemp shares a dingy apartment. Giovanni Ribisi, as Moberg, the alcoholic, Hitler-loving, religious correspondent is as amazing as his character is repulsive. The scene in which Moberg demonstrates the strength of his 470 proof home-brew by igniting it with a lighter as he exhales is as dramatic as it is memorable, as is the scene in which Kemp and Sala experiment with the illicit drug administered as eye drops.
The contrast, when Kemp enters the expensive, corrupt world of handsome, rich business developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), with the spacious, elegant beachfront villa, red convertible Chevy and beautiful, sexy girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) could not be greater. Kemp gets sucked into Sanderson's greedy, crooked scheme to develop one of the unspoilt Caribbean islands into a resort destination, when he feels obliged after being rescued by Sanderson from an ugly situation involving aggressive locals and the police. His sexual attraction to the salacious Chenault (pronounced Chanel) is apparent from their first encounter - when he mistakes her for a mermaid on a midnight swim.
There's drama, sex and humour as the story plays out with incongruous situations arising at the most unexpected of times. The scene in which Kemp resorts to drinking water from the goldfish bowl is testament to the fact this is an environment in which beer and rum are more plentiful than water. There are great lines of dialogue such as 'Life's full of exits'; 'he has blackheads like Braille'; 'sometimes you have to spew over the side and keep rowing,' and Bruce Robinson, who came out of retirement to write and direct the film has done a superb job of telling the narrative.
Performances sparkle as brightly as the cerulean waters of the Caribbean, with Depp perfect as the writer, seeking to find his voice. Thoroughly entertaining and rich with textures, The Rum Diary is an intoxicating sojourn.
Published first in the Sun Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Establishing both character and location with an economical opening scene in a San Juan hotel room strewn with the detritus of a chaotic writer with a taste for the mini bar (which lies on its side after refusing to open), The Rum Diary is as seductive as the rustically exotic locale. Johnny Depp delivers a thorough and thoroughly engaging characterisation as the putative writer who goes on to conquer America with his words. But that's another story; this one begins and ends in Puerto Rico, where Paul Kemp (Depp) lands in response to an opening at the San Juan Star.
The paper has seen better days and its unrepentantly cynical editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) is on the edge of a meltdown - like the paper itself. It's shambolic photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) who becomes Kemp's buddy and constant companion as they drink their way through the trials and tribulations of their life under the constant threat of something going wrong.
Shadowing them is the dissolute figure of the paper's multiple-fired Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) who is barely alive as he abuses his body with his own brew of firewater - literally - which at one point turns out to be both useful and dangerous.
The story stays focused on Kemp, who is recruited by the wily con-man Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) to plant stories and other good words about the plans for a major commercial development on a pristine island nearby. He and his cronies expect Kemp to take the money and type, but this is the experience that does much to steel Kemp into the man with a conscience that writes 'in ink and rage' against the corrupt and powerful.
The cast is marvellous, with everyone delivering superb, complex characters, including Amber Heard as the gorgeous Chenault, who may look like a bimbo but proves more substantial.
Bruce Robinson's direction gives the film a wonderful tone of irreverence mixed with sincerity and the production design defines the film's tangible impact in every frame. Reminiscent of Charles Bukowski's work, the underlying material is drawn from Thompson's own diary, with help from Depp and Robinson. It's engaging and entertaining, at times deadly serious in its own way, with lots to say. With its final shot, The Rum Diary gives us a romantic (in the true sense) finish, but also a pointer to what's over the horizon. It's a satisfying and often funny telling of a great true story.
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RUM DIARY, THE (M)
CAST: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins,
PRODUCER: Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski, Graham King, Robert Kravis, Anthony Rhulen
DIRECTOR: Bruce Robinson
SCRIPT: Bruce Robinson (novel by Hunter S. Thompson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dariusz Wolski
EDITOR: Carol Littleton
MUSIC: Christopher Young
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Seagers
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 15, 2012