Fans of the previous Johnny Depp starring Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, might be slightly let down by the decidedly less outlandish behaviour in The Rum Diary, but those looking for a literate and witty story about shady journalism are in for a real treat.
Depp stars as Paul Kemp, a fast talking journalist who has just taken a job as a news correspondent and horoscope writer for a daily newspaper in the newly annexed American territory of Puerto Rico. Kemp quickly acclimates himself to the greedy ways of the island. In a place where everything can easily be bought and sold, Kemp strikes an uneasy alliance with a wealthy developer named Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) in need of some good press. Through Sanderson, Kemp is introduced to how the better half live on the island and how the distribution of wealth contributes to volatile situations between the Americans and the locals.
The cast alone is enough to recommend the film. Depp gives his best performance in years as Kemp, a man who has no control when it comes to drinking or his own sense of justice. Eckhart continues to be one of the decade’s most underrated acting talents by playing the perfect foil for Kemp. Amber Heard also solidifies her status as one of the best up and comers as the smart, dangerous, and beautiful young woman who will eventually drive a wedge between Kemp and Sanderson. Also great in supporting roles are Richard Jenkins (as Kemp’s editor) and Giovanni Ribisi, who has never been better, as the paper’s dirty, dishevelled, and terminally strange crime and religion reporter.
Director Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) returns to the screen after a 19 year absence, and while the film is very competently put together in terms of story, the direction does show a slight bit of rust. The film spends a lot of time setting up the local colour with lush detail, but the second half of the film seems to speed along to the conclusion. For a film about people with loose ethics, things seem to wrap up a bit too neatly.
It’s mostly faithful to Thompson’s source material and much like Thompson and the lead character, The Rum Diary coasts by on a seemingly endless wealth of charm and grit. That’s probably the highest compliment the film can be paid.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi
Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Top image: A scene from The Rum Diary. Courtesy eOne Films.