The Rum Diary
Johnny Depp channels Hunter S Thompson once again, with lacklustre results
Of the two fictional representations of Hunter S Thompson to grace the silver screen so far – by Bill Murray in Where the Buffalo Roam and Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Depp’s is commonly regarded as the best. Depp had the advantage of a close friendship with the legendary inventor of gonzo journalism, so it’s fitting that it’s he who re-assumes the role for a look at the early years of Thompson’s career in The Rum Diary.
Depp plays Thompson stand-in Paul Kemp, a journalist on fresh assignment to a newspaper in Puerto Rico. As he (half-heartedly) struggles to keep a hold of his sobriety, he notices that there’s something sinister afoot in the island paradise, somehow linked to former journalist-turned-PR man Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). As he and his partner Sala (Michael Rispoli) become more and more embroiled in the affair, Kemp finds himself falling for Sanderson’s squeeze Chenault (Amber Heard).
The Thompson of The Rum Diary is not yet the drugged-up head case of Fear and Loathing, nor the soused clown of Buffalo – although these future states are hinted at. He’s a much more earnest figure at this point, only just learning his hate for ‘the Bastards’ of the world, be they crooks, businessmen or Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, this makes him a less interesting character – while there are flashes of Thompsonian wit (‘Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet!’ he yells at Sala during his first experiment with LSD), he’s largely clueless, spending much of the film either drunk or hungover. The pace of the film, whether intentionally or not, mimics this state of mind: it lurches along with fits and starts, often struggling to string together its ideas with any coherence. It’s a worthwhile film for anyone wishing to know more about the genesis of Thompson’s career, but is sadly lacking in any of the great doctor of journalism’s sparkling charisma.
With thanks to Vue Omni, Edinburgh.