{2jtab: Movie Review}

The Rum Diary - Movie Review


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5 Stars

Pig-headed bastards will dismiss Bruce Robinson’s The Rum Diary – his first film in nineteen years - as wildly indulgent; a calliope of sounds and sights in a Puerto Rican trip that is ultimately not worth taking.  It will be as if they forgot all about his popular gin-soaked romp that was Withnail and I, a film which shares more than a little of The Rum Diary’s alcoholic spirit.  Those same short-sighted critics will suggest Robinson’s new film is just a moody collection of misfit episodes that have no greater scheme or rhyme or purpose than to riff on the burgeoning character Hunter S. Thompson would eventually become.  They will argue with the hipster-turned-vigilante vibe the film puts off.  They might recognize the Gonzo Journalist-sized beginnings; they just won’t see the real beauty of the film.  It is a shame because, as seen by director Robinson (who wrote the screenplay), The Rum Diary is the drunken Hemingway-esque travelogue Thompson always wanted his book to be.

While Robinson’s The Rum Diary has a wicked sense of 1960 nostalgia swirling about it, this is the motion picture for the Here and Now.  Call it an ode to the 99% left stranded by big banks, Wall Street, and secret government handshakes in dark alleys; those who currently occupy state capitals in protest and shield themselves against police brutality.  The Rum Diary is their liquor of choice; one man’s attempt to find a voice against the powerful rich.  It will go largely unnoticed, but the film is a brazen masterpiece of mood and mayhem that brings a free-wheeling and authentic purpose to the modern cinema.  It’s a voice long missing (February 20, 2005 to be precise); a voice we should welcome for having the balls to be so blatantly idiosyncratic.

The self-admitted passion project between Robinson and its star Johnny Deep begins with a swaggering shaft of unwelcomed sunlight accompanied by Dean Martin’s smooth belting of ‘Volare (Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu)’; a beaten badger-like journalist peers from behind his drawn window shades.  He yanks them open and stands there in boxers and socks only.  Eyes struggling to make sense of what they are seeing.  A red plane flying directly outside of Paul Kemp’s (Depp) hotel window greets his early morning hangover.  Kicking behind is a “Welcome to Puerto Rico” sign for all the vacationing Americans to be greeted by.  It is the voyeuristic opening that defines large parts of The Rum Diary.  Kemp, while not an innocent, is a stranger in a strange land and he spends most of the time observing the madness waved ashore in the sand and surf of a rum-soaked semi-political quagmire that is Puerto Rico circa 1960.

Assigned to complete the horoscope section of a struggling newspaper by its editor-in-chief Edward Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), Kemp finds his initial assignment to be a bit of a bore.  Struggling to find his own voice inside his writing, he befriends everyone Lotterman warns him of – burned out writer Sala (the always wonderful Michael Rispoli) and total burn out (and strung out) Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi in a career-defining performance if ever there was one) – and learns that the elite of America already own much of Puerto Rico and want more for their profits and less for the locals.  In spite of the three men’s discovery and their differences, Moburg’s 470-proof booze unites them and together they explore the psycho-tropics around them and go where the sunny days – complete with violent cockfights and inane paper assignments – take them.  That is until Public Relations extraordinaire Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) discovers of Kemp’s desires to be a novelist.  He and his partners hatch a scheme to snare Kemp in their rather illegal plans to convert a small island off of Puerto Rico into a Hotel Haven for vacationing tourists as the writer of merit who will bring the people lured by his prose.

Kemp, inspired more by the looks and his lust for Sanderson’s tanned girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) than by the chance to write for money, sells his soul to the men and agrees to write the words that will make the people weep.  Over time and booze and a slight encounter with mind-altering drugs, Kemp finds his voice to fight with words against Sanderson and his cronies.  Time, however, is running out for the paper he works for and, when the doors close for good, Kemp discovers what really matters in life...fighting off the bastards with his newly found voice.  Money verses the written word.

Thompson was only 22-years-old when he wrote The Rum Diary.  There is a bit of young blood bravado about it.  His idol was Hemingway; his prose was not.  As a result, The Rum Diary went a long time unpublished.  That’s not to say that it isn’t good, but anyone expecting a fierce regurgitation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas should temper their expectations.  This is the young writer learning to write with the extreme voice we already know so well.  The movie portrays this struggle well and, for the Thomspon enthusiasts, will make them proud.  Yes, it is better than the two Thompson films that have come before.

Depp plays Thompson with a very precise manner; hints of his performance in Gilliam's Fear and Loathing can be spotted, but this is Thompson before the drugs took hold.  He is cautiously devilish and devilishly cautious, but there it is; an urgent hesitation on his part to do a friend proud, Depp as an adult playing Thompson as the young man.  Yet, try to fight back the grin when, toward the end of the film, we get to see Depp behind a rickety typewriter, flingers splayed, as he picks the words that will form the thoughts and attitude that will ignite the spark of Gonzo journalism.  Heard, while not having much to do except be the muse that shakes the foundations of Puerto Rico and Paul Kemp, is a ravishing beacon of beauty in a red dress.  Their scenes together sparkle and smulder the screen.

Robinson, not a young man by any stretch, retains the playground feel of the prose but presents Puerto Rico and the politics therein with an experienced eye; one that knows the outcome of continuous battle.  Begrudgingly dragged out of retirement by a promise Depp made to Thompson before he died, Robinson brings a bit of sobriety to the larger theme of a few wealthy folks pissing in everyone’s sandbox.  Robinson balances the freewheeling sideways excursions (to a transvestite voodoo queen and beyond) with a sobering look of a realist caught in snapshot moment that would eventually blind the whole world.  We get quick snippets of Nixon; of poverty; of war; and of the effects of drugs.  We also get the poetry in between; the things that make life worth living.  It's a type of island-hopping oetry made all the more beautiful by an intoxicating soundtrack of island jazz and blues from composer Christopher Young.

The Rum Diary is a poignant reflection of the past with a rich and endearingly seamless feel to it.  Everything – even when the film wanders from its course from time to time to include nuggets of Hitler’s most infamous speech ever put to vinyl and a brief spell of flamethrowing from the mouth – feels necessary to the success of the film.  Yes, this is a love letter to a close friend, that much is evident by its modesty, but to fault a film and its makers for improving the source material through relevance and immediacy is more than enough reason to herald this film as the five-star achievement it is.

Welcome back, Bruce Robinson.  We missed you.

{2jtab: Film Details}

The Rum Diary - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for language, brief drug use and sexuality.
: Bruce Robinson
: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Johnny Depp; Aaron Eckhart; Michael Rispoli; Amber Heard; Richard Jenkins; Giovanni Ribisi
Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
One part outrage. One part justice. Three parts rum. Mix well.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I thought maybe you were a mermaid."
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 28, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 14, 2012

Synopsis: Based on the debut novel by Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary tells the increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp). Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper, The San Juan Star, run by downtrodden editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the wildly attractive Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson, a businessman involved in shady property development deals, is one of a growing number of American entrepreneurs who are determined to convert Puerto Rico into a capitalist paradise in service of the wealthy. When Kemp is recruited by Sanderson to write favorably about his latest unsavory scheme, the journalist is presented with a choice: to use his words for the corrupt businessmen's financial benefit, or use them to take the bastards down.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

The Rum Diary - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - February 14, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English, English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); BD-Live
Playback: Region A

Texture. Oh yes, these diaries have texture. Opening with a supple sky of blue and delivering the intoxicating goods of the Super 16 film element, Sony’s 1080p transfer is as good as it gets. The details of the location absolutely pop with charm and gritty preciseness throughout the presentation and, at times, glow with a steely eye of intent from the film’s cinematography. Bursts of sudden color sharpen the image and fine detail is a luscious treat inside the pages of The Rum Diary, however, there are moments where the picture is a bit dim from the on-location antics. Clothing fabric and the beautifully blonde Amber Heard sizzle the screen with unflinching devotion to detail, detail, detail. There’s a crispness to the color that is brazenly fresh in the thin layer of glorious grain that percolates in the picture. The sound, presented here in a stunningly 5-channel engaged serenade of DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless sound, is rich in layers and showcases the rum-soaked jazz styling of composer Christopher Young and melodic hits from Dean Martin and Patti Smith.  Dialogue is punched prime and front loaded.



  • None

Special Features:

The film has a bit of a fascinating history in its journey to book and, finally, to screen.  There are only two documentaries that focus on this, but maybe – just barely – they are enough to cover that backstory of a friendship between author Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp.  Essentially, Thompson left The Rum Diary for Depp to discover and develop…as long as Bruce Robinson was the director.  Depp’s friendship with Thompson is discussed and the cast and crew discuss the actual making of the movie in one featurette.  In the other and longer documentary, we get interviews with Thompson and Depp and Science Writer Timothy Ferris and Historian Douglas Brinkley in what essentially becomes a Hunter S. Thompson love-fest for 45 minutes.  His history is covered and so are his novels, yet the main focus is on The Rum Diary.

  • A Voice of Ink and Rage: Inside ‘The Rum Diary’ (13 min)
  • The Rum Diary Back-Story (45 min)

{2jtab: Trailer}