Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Produced by: Johnny Depp
Screenplay by: Bruce Robinson
Based on: The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp
Music by: Christopher Young
Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski
Editing by: Carol Littleton
Studio(s): GK Films
Distributed by: FilmDistrict
Release date(s): October 28, 2011 (United States)
November 11, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 120 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $45 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $19, 202, 772
Alright folks, as expected, me again (who else?)! So, I've finally got the dastardly essays for this semester in university done, now I'm going to get back into some serious reviewing (I seem to making a comeback every other week!). I have finally watched I Saw The Devil, the new Kim Ji-woon film, and I have copies of The Adjustment Bureau, Ages Of Heroes, The Way Back and a new addition in Stake Land to the DVD rack. Also, you can definitely expect a review for Breaking Dawn: Part 1, as it will be out for weeks, but I'm going to try and catch up on Immortals, TinTin and Tabloid, the new film by Errol Morris. On the internet horizon, I will try and get a properly subtitled version of Film Socialisme and The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence). Finally, you can expect that I will get down to reviewing 13 Assassins, the new Takashi Miike film, and Nic Winding Refn's Drive at some point, so keep your eyes posted.
Anyway, post preamble, let's get down to digesting The Rum Diary. This film has a lot of interesting components going into it: Johnny Depp stars in an adaptation of the eponymous Hunter S. Thompson novel as Paul Kemp, a journalist who, getting disenfranchised with America under the Eisenhower administration, gets a job working for The San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. This is Depp's second involvement in an S. Thompson adaptation, after 1998's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Also producing the film, he has also coaxed the great Bruce Robinson, writer-director of one of the greatest films ever made, Withnail and I, a film not unlike something unlike 'Gonzo' himself would have written. With all these elements in place, it would seem that a great adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson, starring the right actor and with the best writer-director for the job. However, The Rum Diary has gotten very mixed critical reception, and something that could have been a contender (a long shot, but a contender nevertheless) for the Oscars has already had its chances blown. Nevertheless, given the pedigree involved, I went in with an open heart and mind, wanting to enjoy it.
So, as mentioned, Depp is the perfect actor to play a Hunter S. Thompson surrogate, and he proves just that in his role as Paul Kemp. Although dominating the film, Depp is a good enough actor to know how to pull back and make his character slither about as a natural part of the scenery. He's clearly enjoying himself here, and it comes through onscreen. Also, as producer it is clear that his heart is in the right place, wanting to faithfully adapt his friend's novel. Bruce Robinson does a surprisingly good job of handling this project. After nineteen years, he shows no rust in his edgy and raw directorial style. Furthermore, his script captures the essence of Hunter S. Thompson: we go through all various scenarios, but there is a real serious undertone to the piece that makes it seem all the more whole. Also, some of the motley crew of actors, particularly Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi (who looks absolutely filthy here) give good performances and help contribute the overall sense of the world Kemp is inhabiting. Finally, it is a pleasure to feel the passion which the participants of this project clearly have for the material, and The Rum Diary does always feel like something genuine.
From the glowing things I've said there you'd probably expect this to be one of the best of the year. I hate to say this, but The Rum Diary is by no means among the best films to come out this year. The primary problem(s) seem to be the decisions made in the pre-production process, particularly with who they have hired on the film. I'll admit that the film does look good, but I feel that in order to tell this story, it really needs to be downplayed. Dariusz Wolski is a very good cinematographer, but I think his work here makes the film look too crisp and clean, and adds a big layer of fat onto the film. This is especially problematic whenever you find that Kemp's 'squalor' looks like somewhere I'd want to live, as opposed to the filthy, scum-infested mess it's meant to be. Also, despite some of the shenanigans going on, I think it was really unnecessary to cut some of these sequences as though it's a Bourne movie. It takes away from legitimately buying the film, and makes it come across a carbon copy of things we have seen before. This is horrible I know, but I felt them really trying to be like The Hangover and cater to a mainstream audience. Furthermore, Christopher Young's score is shockingly murder-by-numbers, especially considering his work on Hellraiser is highly unconventional. It is highly disappointing that these elements of contrivance enter (and permeate) the film and make a potentially great film come across as forgettable.
The Rum Diary is definitely a good film. Johnny Deep is as always a strong lead, and the casting for a number of the actors, specifically Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi and Richard Jenkins is spot on. Also, in Bruce Robinson you have the right guy in there to adapt Hunter S. Thompson and bring it to life onscreen. However, unfortunately those hired for the film's technical aspects, talented as they are, do not fit with the project. While being a good movie, my prevailing feeling with The Rum Diary is that this is a watered-down, mainstream attempt to do Hunter S. Thompson. A shame, really...
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.2/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Content (to sit in)
P.S. REVIEW UPDATE - Got a copy of Beautiful Lies, the new comedy starring Audrey Tautou on my desk for review