The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp, GK Films, 2011
Okay, here is the plot line of the film under review, the adaptation of the late Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary (more later on that) The Rum Diary, straight out of the gate. A young aspiring American writer, of the male persuasion, Paul Kemp, played by Thompson pal Johnny Depp, seeks employment in the newspaper business down in then backwater colonial Puerto Rico in the late cold war red scare early 1960s. Said writer, working to win his spurs and to make a name for himself tries six ways to Sunday to upgrade himself as a professional and the newspaper as well (based on a real the San Juan Star of the time). Oh, and chase a few windmills to right some of the egregious wrongs of this world as the young are prone to do (the major wrong confronting him being double-triple rip-out of the place by hungry, very hungry real estate developers). Problems encountered in chasing those windmills: said budding journalist is a bit of a drunk, a bit too close to some ex-pat fellow journalists who gravitated to PR just to be flaky in peace, and a bit too close (but one cannot blame him on this one) to one very hot blonde who happens to be slumming in Puerto Rico just then. But, trust me, one Paul Kemp will straighten that whole thing out, or have us go mad trying.
Sound familiar? Well, for any Hunter Thompson aficionado, and count me as one, hell, any half- aficionado, this plot line is very, very much like the life, the early life of one Hunter S. Thompson. And how would we know?
Well we have read the letters, we have read the Rolling Stone articles, hell we have read Songs of the Doomed and got a taste for snippets of The Rum Diary there. So when viewing this film there was a certain disappointment (just a little) that this did not turn out to be the great film adaptation of Hunter Thompson’s stab at the great American novel.
And here is where the “more later” mentioned above on The Rum Diary comes in. Hunter Thompson, seemingly, spend endless hours as far back as the early 1970s (maybe earlier )trying get this novel published (and in publishable form), and into film form. But here is a case where life (his, his later life anyway) outdid fiction. The ambience of the film seems very dated, very dated indeed in the post-Doctor Gonzo age. For what it is worth this is my “skinny” on Thompson’s career. He was one of the premier journalists of the last half of the twentieth century but as a novelist he was well behind his heroes Fitzgerald and Hemingway. As for Johnny Depp’s performance, well, Johnny Depp knows, knows deep in his bones, how to play off-the wall characters and does a better job, a much better job, here than in his attempt at channeling Hunter Thompson in the film adaptation of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Selah.