The Rum Diary
The Rum Diary is not what one might imagine from the title, it’s not a two-hour rager but rather a series of sober staggering home scenes that slosh up against the screen; it’s not exactly a sequel but it is the morning after Fear and Loathing’s large night out. It is then a film that will disappoint the vast majority of its audience because of their imagined intentions: there are those that will come to it because it stars Depp and they will wantonly expect him to do wacky things within it, there are those who have read either the original novel or one of Hunter S. Thompson’s other Gonzo efforts and they will be stuck in the accusatory mindset that mires all adaptations unduly, then there are those ex-college students who have seen the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and want another hit of drug addled action; all of them to a one will not get what they want from The Rum Diary but they may yet get something else entirely. No-one ever wants a hangover but sometimes it’s rather good that they happened.
Though the film’s central role is again taken by Depp he isn’t in any way playing the same character as he did in Fear and Loathing; here his Hunter S. Thompson pseudonym is the straight man to all the insanity inherent in the haven of Puerto Rico. Sure he has another new hairstyle and the occasional quirky expression of sound effect but this isn’t the Depp that all the teenage girls have come to know and love, in fact he almost blends into the background for the majority of the movie, perhaps learning a thing or two from his time working on Rango. Normally this would be a criticism but in this case I have to applaud him for it, the man has proven that he can eat up the screen when he needs to so for him sitting back is a stretch, and one necessitated by the material. The travelogue requires a non-corporeal lead character so that the audience can see the scenery through them and put themselves completely in the scene and his turn here allows that, while also being entertaining in its own right.
Like any travelogue the story is a little scattershot, the narrative slave to the whims of the setting rather than the usual inverse order. For someone like myself who likes a well-taut script this is less than ideal but if you allow yourself to go along for the ride the individual vignettes and adventures are all enjoyable enough in their own right. To my mind though there was one part of the picture that stood up above all the others and this most intriguing section takes place in the middle of the picture, where the newspaper structure is abandoned in favour of our lead getting caught up in the midst of a high stakes land deal. I don’t know what it is but land deals always make my favourite drama, perhaps I was a realtor in a past life. There is urgency and a sense of stakes to this section that sets it above the rest, thanks mostly to an amazing performance from Aaron Eckhart – who I feared would be criminally underused here like he usually is, but ended up stealing the film for me – but also to some tense and truthful stylised scenes of conflict.
While the structure of the script is flawed it more than makes up for this in other areas, the turns of phrase for example are just phenomenal: pithy, puerile and paranormal in equal parts you can tell that these are taken straight from Thompson’s own writing, there simply isn’t someone else who would write like that. The direction is, well, to be honest I never much noticed it, which is to my mind the sign of completely competent but otherwise mediocre work; there was nothing wrong with it, but nothing that really stood out and sometimes that’s good enough. In fact the experience of the film entire is exactly like this, perfectly plain sailing that neither bumps nor grinds besides those rare stunning seconds during Carnivale. Whether that makes it a good or bad movie is then, all a matter of perspective.
If you approach anything with an inebriated imagination than it’s going to seem much grander and god-like than it can ever actually be, in the same way that if you approach a holiday expecting the place to be just like in the brochure you will be in for a bad surprise when you arrive: so regardless of whether it’s a sequel, a prequel, a re-boot or the ruination of your favourite novel try and approach this film as what it is and you will likely have a good time, which is probably as much as we can ever rightly expect.