The Rum Diary is based on Hunter S. Thompson’s book of the same name which in turn is based around his own experiences as a young journalist in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 60’s. It’s as much an oddball comedy about grown men drowning their own lives in the bottom of a bottle of Rum as it is a serious film about a journalist trying to come to grips with the commercial demands of the world and his need to find his own voice and report on what really matters.
Jonny Depp plays American Journalist Paul Kemp, who has come to Puerto Rico to work for a Local newspaper. On arrival he learns he was the only applicant for the job, and if the paper doesn’t improve then it will close. Shortly after being assigned to write the horoscope for the paper Kemp is approached by Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a wealthy local with a very attractive girlfriend (Amber Heard), with a proposal to write favourable storied in exchange for money.
Kemp is caught between his need to write real truthful stories about the world around him, his real job writing shallow entertaining horoscopes, and sinking a few Rums and having a glorious time dreaming of dating Sanderson’s girlfriend. It’s a recipe for a good story, full of conflict and choice, but it never really gets going. The screenplay is happy to just plod along at just above a snail’s pace while never really going into much of the deeper questions it raises.
It’s a shame, because everyone from Depp to Richard Jenkins is on their game here delivering quality performances. Giovanni Ribisi deserves special mention for his performance, it’s tough playing the degenerate drunk in a film full of quality actors, but he manages to steal most of the scenes that he’s in.
Clocking in at just over two hours the film is simply too long, too unfocused, and happy to just go from scene to scene without any sense of why it wants to tell this story. There is a lot to offer here, it’s just a shame it wasn’t as focussed as it could have been.