“The Rum Diary,” written by Bruce Robinson and Hunter S. Thompson (novel), directed by Robinson, 120 minutes, rated R.
To call “The Rum Diary” a labor of love for Johnny Depp would be an understatement. The actor’s dedication to the project runs much deeper than that – it’s a desire to fulfill a promise to a dear friend, the late Hunter S. Thompson.
Here, Depp is Paul Kemp, an alcohol-fueled journalist in the 1950s who takes an undesirable job at a paper in Puerto Rico, a country where rum flows like water.
Kemp’s keen, bloodshot eyes are wide open as he observes the economic division in Puerto Rico, where slums and those who inhabit them are just a stone’s throw away from the pricey hotels, idyllic ocean views and greedy expatriates making a fortune of it all through less than moral practices.
One such character, Aaron Eckhart’s Sanderson, is the very catalyst that brings Kemp’s defiant side to the surface – the wakeup call the writer needs. As the two try to build a working relationship, while the journalist pursues Sanderon’s girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), Kemp finds that Sanderson is the essence of everything he stands against.
Through his performance, Depp keeps the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson alive. As Kemp, the actor embodies Thompson’s maverick nature, one of the primary characteristics that continues to make the writer so appealing. He lives fast, fighting “The Bastards,” plunging head-first into uncharted waters and getting into plenty of trouble along the way.
The sort of passion that Depp brings to this film, however, has its down side. Depp, as well as writer-director Bruce Robinson, treat Thompson’s material as though it’s holy, because in their eyes, it is. Kemp’s cinematic journey plays out less like a film and more like an unfiltered stream of consciousness – and not just any stream of consciousness, but that of Thompson.
Some will find many of Kemp’s diversions in Puerto Rico unnecessary, and in a world where stories are expected to go from Point A to Point B, they might have a valid argument. But not here.
Playing by those conventions isn’t something that “The Rum Diary” is interested in. It feeds off the eccentric and the absurd, which happens to include the most off-beat performance of Giovanni Ribisi’s career, some of the most unpleasant hangovers ever filmed, and a gag involving a broken car that left me laughing out loud.
“The Rum Diary” is a success, with Depp keeping the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson alive. Through friends, such as Depp, and legions of loyal followers, Thompson has achieved a coveted status just shy of immortality.