The Rum Diary, 2011, USA
I must preface this review by saying that I have not read the late Hunter S. Thompson’s book of the same name. Because of this, I cannot tell if my issues with the film are based on an awkward book-to-film translation, or if it was written this way.
Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is a wannabe novelist who moves to Puerto Rico to work at a failing newspaper. His boss (Richard Jenkins) assigns him the horoscope beat and sidelines his attempts at serious journalism. He moves in with his colleagues, Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), who like to drink and live in a crappy apartment in a rough area of town. When Paul meets Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), he gets the chance to make serious money working with him on a real estate venture. However, Sanderson is crooked, and Paul struggles between his desire to make money, his desire to be a serious writer and his attraction to Sanderson’s fiancée Chenault (Amber Heard).
The movie is a mess. It was torn between whether it wanted to be a serious critique of the journalism industry, a romantic comedy, or an alcohol/drug-fueled comedy. At times it was all three, and I think it falls flat in many respects. It was quite funny at times, but I think it would have been better off choosing a tone and sticking with it. Personally, I appreciated what Thompson was trying to say about the journalism industry in his story, and would have liked that angle focused on a bit more within the film. I found the idea of juggling placating advertisers and tourists with serious, hard-hitting news to be very interesting. The story was told with a strong satirical undertone, but the message of media ethics is an important one, regardless of the time period. I got the sense that this aspect of the story was watered down in favour of the drinking/partying, though I may be wrong in that respect!
At two hours in length, the film goes on far too long and wears out its welcome. Part of the problem is the aforementioned genre issues, but there were too many scenes that felt like filler and didn’t do much to advance the plot. I was more than ready for the film to end when it did, although it did end quite abruptly. It was as if the filmmakers ran out of money and decided to tack on an ending.
That being said, I liked the lead actors. Depp, as always, gives a fantastic performance, and I enjoyed seeing Eckhart in a role that’s a bit different from anything I’ve seen him in. Heard wasn’t bad, but I found that she didn’t have a whole lot to do, and I would have liked to see her character fleshed out a little bit more.