“…and it will be a voice of ink and rage.”
Johnny Depp steps back into the world of Hunter S. Thompson. Depp had a hand in finding Thompson’s lost work and decided to bring it to the screen in tribute to the late author. The results don’t seem to go anywhere, but are still a well-made trip though not along the lines of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) woozily wakes up in a hotel room in Puerto Rico. He has arrived to take a job at the faltering San Juan Star. It’s run by toupee wearing editor Edward J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) who spots Kemp as a drunkard but since he’s the only one who applied he is brought onto the paper.
He doesn’t stand out in a crew that includes photographer Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli), who also raises chickens for cockfighting, and religion writer Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), who is constantly drunk on rocket fuel (literally) and listens to Hitler’s speeches in his spare time.
One fateful evening Kemp meets the sexy Chenault (Amber Heard) who turns out to be the girlfriend of shady developer Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who in turn draws Kemp into his equally cloudy dealings.
The Rum Diary has a history as interesting as gonzo author Hunter S. Thompson himself. It was actually his second novel although, along with his first novel, but it went unpublished for many years. It wasn’t until Thompson made the acquaintance of Johnny Depp during filming of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that it was rediscovered languishing in Thompson’s basement.
Depp encouraged its publication and it rose again. Too bad the movie that sprang from it isn’t as interesting as that tale (perhaps nothing could be). Not a terrible film, but certainly not the gonzo work that Fear and Loathing careened across the screen as. Thompson earns an empty director’s chair since he’s not with us anymore and if he were the film may have been much more akin to his personality.
Perhaps it is the lacking of Depp’s constant narration as the free flowing mind of Thompson that made Fear feel like the author’s fever dream. Rum Diary is actually a well-made film and full of fantastic imagery (though not the fantastical hallucinations of Fear, except for one) and beautiful landscapes. It’s just the story really doesn’t seem to have much momentum to it.
Case in point: later in the film our motley crew comes up with a scheme to get back at the “man” yet it is scuttled before it begins. We’re expecting to witness a madcap scheme yet it all falls apart. However, maybe that is the point or pointlessness of it all. As dark as Thompson seems that may be the point.
It does feature some fine performances as Depp still has that Hunter feel as Kemp, Heard is lovely to look at, Ribisi channels Strother Martin in a wacked out way (the character I wanted to see a little more of), and Rispoli offers some ironic comic relief as well as acting as a good partner for Kemp.
There is one laugh out loud moment, but the comedy is gentler than maniacal. Although if we take parts out of context they shine (Depp and Ribisi’s performances) but when we put it all into the movie it seems to go closer to whimper than bang. Even the textual “happy ending” coda seems out of place with the high octane reality of Thompson.
Maybe Thompson is an acquired taste, but it does make me laugh when I think of audiences coming in expecting Captain Jack Sparrow and getting something completely different.
The Rum Diary is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (1.85:1). Special features, presented in high-def, include the 12 minute “A Voice made of Ink and Rage” making of and the 46 minute “Rum Diary Back-story” about how the book came about and its road to the big screen.
The Rum Diary might be buoyed by drinking a bottle when watching it, but the film promises sound and fury yet is muted. The memorable parts never add up to make a memorable movie. Yet it is not a complete failure, but doesn’t seem to capture the mad voice of ink and rage that spawned it.
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