It’s always interesting to see what kind of passion projects a star can use his considerable box office pull to get into theatres. This year we had Brad Pitt bring Moneyball to light, amongst others, and another film that was a passion project for a big star was The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp. In development hell for more than a decade with a handful of stars attached to it over the years, Depp would be cast in this production of the film in 2007 and came on board to produce it a couple years later in order to get the film made. A personal friend of the book’s author, Hunter S. Thompson, it says something that Depp would take that much of an interest to get the film into production. Depp’s long term association with Thompson began with the first time Depp stepped into the thinly veiled autobiographical character intended to be Thompson, 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and continues once more as Depp steps into Thompson’s shoes once again.
As Paul Kemp, a journalist looking at the end of his career, Depp ventures into Thompson’s formidable shoes. Tired of life in the U.S and unable to hold down a job in New York, Kemp has ventured down to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to try and garner a job at the San Juan Star under the auspices of a fireball editor (Richard Jenkins) who only had one applicant for the job. Shunted into an apartment with a hard partying photographer (Michael Rispoli) and a wild child reporter (Giovanni Ribisi), Kemp falls into the crosshairs of a real estate developer (Aaron Eckhardt) who wants him to help with a real estate scam. Things get more complicated when he falls for the developer’s girlfriend (Amber Heard). All the while the newspaper he works for is going through hard times.
And the problem is that for a character with such craziness going around him, Kemp is rather boring even in the hands of Johnny Depp.
For a man who’s already played the cutout for Hunter S. Thompson before, and played it fairly well, this version of Thompson is rather boring. For a film that has such a wild variety of interesting characters, the one we want to be interesting and care about the most is the most tedious one. Everyone in the film is in scenery chomping mode and Depp is the calm in the story. But it’s not really his fault; this is a film that needs a lot more work in the overall tone and character development aspects than it does with its lead character. And it’s a shame because Depp is actually fairly good in the film; it’s more due to the film’s script than in it is in Depp. He’s good, not really remarkable though, but the film’s main problem is that it’s a nightmare when it comes to Kemp’s overall character arc.
This is a story about a writer who comes looking for one thing, to find inspiration to write in his own voice, and finds it in a remarkably different way that changes him forever. The Thompson novel had the ability to tell a full story without the need to condense the story. The film, running at two hours, is a story-telling nightmare in this regard. It condenses what needs to be an extended narrative about a man finding himself and takes out the bulk of the character searching. It’s presented as a quick change of heart completely out of nowhere; it’s out of place and feels more like a quick rush to conclude the story as opposed to an organic, natural character development. This is a film that feels like an hour or so of story development has been cut in order to make it more commercial; there’s enough good going on that you could probably extend the film’s running time by at least 30 minutes to an hour and have a much more developed story.
As it is, The Rum Diary has plenty going for it but just falls apart as a story.
Director: Bruce Robinson Notable Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhardt, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi Writer(s) Bruce Robinson based on the novel “The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson