Film Review: The Rum Diary

By Prayag Arora-Desai

Here is a little fact:
I am the biggest Hunter S. Thompson fan my side of town. My side of town being Andheri (or at least Andheri West). Don’t expect me to review this film, you know, objectively. Hell, Dr. Gonzo wouldn’t want me to, therefore you shouldn’t either. So there… ok.

Johnny Depp reprising the ethos of Hunter Thompson in another cinematic roller coaster of alcoholism, drugs and literary genius establishes an inhuman level of expectation, especially amongst those who’ve previously seen Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And while no links exist between the two films except the theatrical smarts of Johnny Depp (and that they’re both based on novels by Dr. Gonzo), the comparison is inevitable, in the same way you’d compare Henry Rollins debut solo album to a Black Flag record. So let’s get that out of the way, first.

No, The Rum Diary isn’t the film that Fear and Loathing was, but it is still bloody brilliant in itself. What it is, essentially, is the craziness and badass vibe of the latter boiled down to rudimentary proportions. Which is logical, given that The Rum Diary was Thompson’s first book, written long before he found his literary groove and did his head in with drugs and paranoia. Comparatively, this film is more sober. On the other hand, if you’ve never had any experience with the work of Hunter S. Thompson (or cinematic adaptations thereof), this film should send you laughing to your grave.

The story is about a young, honest gonzo journalist trying to make himself just about enough money to drink insane amounts of alcohol (how relatable is that?). Along the way, he gets into trouble with the locals of San Juan (where he has relocated to work with a ragtag publication), moves in with a hygienically challenged Nazi, consumes something that seems like acid and gets involved with some affluent businessmen who try corrupting his journalistic ethics. It sounds unexciting. But what makes this film is not the story as much as it is the way in which the story is written, with plenty of crude, but still intelligent, references to everything from international politics to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Throw in a bit of drunken slapstick and the obviously immense screen presence of Johnny Depp and you’ve got yourself a Dr. Gonzo specialty.

On the downside, however, the film is a loose end. It isn’t as consistent with the book as one would’ve liked, and that is a bloody important factor to consider when you’re translating the work of Dr. Gonzo from one medium to another. As far as adaptation goes, Bruce Robinson could’ve done a lot better. The feeling of conflict resolution at the end of the film is deficient, leaves you wanting, and boils down to plain disinteresting all in a span of five minutes, as are the little romantic bits squeezed into the most inappropriate of places. No one wants to see Johnny Depp in a sex scene just when he’s about to take down the evil editor, but then I guess you do need a pair of tits and an ass to sell a movie sometimes.

I can’t say for sure whether this is a good film or a bad one, but if you’re passionate about words, if you’ve ever been broke while having a passion for words, if you’ve guzzled fatal amounts of beer and rum on top of that, and if you’re a fan of either Johnny Depp or (more importantly) Hunter S. Thompson, this is a film you will love. Whether Hunter Thompson himself would like this film, it’s hard to say. But he’s dead, so fuck it. Like I said, this is no Fear and Loathing… but it’s still good enough.

Rating: 3/5

1 Response to “Film Review: The Rum Diary”

  1. November 5, 2011 at 14:31

    Boasts a highly impressive cast and contains some great touches, but it’s too long by a half hour and meanders severely in its second half. Nice review.


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