Archive for Amber Heard

Review: The Rum Diary

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

‘The Rum Diary’ is based on a novel written by the infamous American journalist Hunter S. Thompson and appears to be semi-biographical in nature, as is the majority of his work. Also, like the majority of his work, it focusses heavily on disenfranchised characters who are often dependant on drink and drugs.

It has been a project close to the heart of producer and lead actor Johnny Depp. While living with Thompson in the late 1990s researching a role for the film version of his novel ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’ Depp was shown ‘The Rum Diary’ and urged Thompson to publish it for the first time since it was written in the 1960s. He also negotiated a film deal for it that has resulted in the film coming out this week. Depp also recruited the director and screenwriter Bruce Robinson, who had retired from directing in 1992, after having a torrid time while filming ‘Jennifer 8’. Apparently Depp was adamant that Robinson directed this film because “he had made one of the most perfect films ever”; referencing ‘Withnail And I’, which he directed and wrote, and contains a lot of the same themes as ‘The Rum Diary’.

The plot of the film follows the story of Paul Kemp (Depp), a journalist who has moved from New York to Puerto Rico to work for a small newspaper for US expats living on the island. It is revealed that the paper is failing and has stirred up a lot of tension between the expats and the native population. Most of the employees of the paper are alcoholics and Kemp gets sucked into their self-destructive world of drug abuse and illegal cock-fighting while living with the photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli), and his feral, moonshine brewing, drug taking, Nazi-sympathising roommate, played with gusto by Giovanni Ribisi.

While working at the San Juan Star, Kemp is head-hunted by the smooth talking PR man and property developer, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson wants Kemp to write advertising articles for a new hotel development on an uninhabited part of Puerto Rico; neither of his new-found careers seem to be what he is looking for as they don’t appeal to his political sensibilities and, as yet, he hasn’t found his voice as a writer. A voice which he develops in his journeys through his growing thirst for rum, his first taste of hallucinogenic drugs and his growing frustration at the class division and politicians all around him. While all this is going on he also starts up an affair with Sanderson’s girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), who is scantily clad for the majority of the time she is on-screen.

There is a lot of bile in the script for this film, which is interesting as Robinson re-wrote the entire screenplay, only keeping two lines from the novel in the final script. Which shows what a masterful writer he is. In fact he took up drinking again after years of sobriety just so he could get inside the head of the booze-addled characters, a gamble with his health that has apparently paid off. However, there isn’t quite the anger at the system that fans of Thompson’s work will pick up on, though this is the story of how he finds his voice, so it can’t be expected to be as rank and seething as his later work. Though there are references to it with a snide attack on Richard Nixon while Kemp and Sala are watching the television at one point.

The film buzzes along at a fast pace, but you never get the feeling that you’ve missed anything. There are some funny set piece scenes including a drunken car chase ending in a small stint  in jail, a voyeuristic scene in which he spies on Sanderson and Chenault sharing an intimate moment in the sea and a voodoo blessing of a fighting cockerel. But quite a bit of the film feels more like a thriller with some romantic elements. All-in-all it is a miracle that this film ever made it to the screen, let alone handled with as much love and care as it has been and, I think, cinema is all the richer for it.

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