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on 4 January 2014
I read Hunter Thompson's The Rum Diary a while back and enjoyed it a lot. This polished little film brilliantly adapts the book to produce a fairly faithful version, but one in which the humour is greatly enhanced. It's essentially a fine, stylish comedy and an affectionate homage to Thompson. All concerned have done the man proud. As much as I admired the book, I absolutely loved the film.

The original novel was written back in the early 60's before Thompson developed his Gonzo style, and the story contains many of the key ingredients that came to inform that later. Essentially the simple plot concerns the rum-soaked adventures of a young wastrel journalist who joins the motley crew staffing a crappy little U.S. newspaper serving the American ex-pat and tourist community in Puerto Rico. An exotic hot-bed of corruption and rapacious capitalism this setting is highly picturesque and offers the film-makers plenty of scope for staging hilarious and edgy escapades which they take full advantage of. As a trip back into early 60s mondo-modernism-in-the-tropics style, the movie is hugely enjoyable. It's awfully good-looking.

The story was loosely based on Thompson's own experiences as a freelance journalist reporting from South America. Written in fairly straight, elegant journalistic prose the book was a fine first novel that remained unpublished for years presumably because it's a modest contemporary tale (like a long short story) and reads like a classy bit of Lit rather than an obvious commercial entertainment. By the time Thompson's star had risen to a point where publishers would have been interested, his writing had moved so far on into the extraordinarily original high style of Gonzo, that this relatively sober early effort must have felt a bit redundant. Bruce Robinson's adaptation cannily gets round this by injecting far more of the High jinx of Gonzo than was there on the page. I think the balance he strikes a between the cynical perspective pervading the novel and the hairy seat-of-the-pants romping staged so well by Terry Gilliam's film version of 'Fear and loathing in Las Vegas' is well-judged. Depp's playing here is an aptly toned-down reading of the Thompson portrait he developed for the Gilliam film. It underlines the fact that the lead character Kemp is supposed to be a proto-Gonzo figure.

Although an equivalent to the down-beat conclusion of the book is retained (which may be a dampener for a casual movie audience anticipating a regular Hollywood comedy), Thompson fans will recognise the conclusion as a perversely glorious sunrise. Overall this is a much more positive and entertaining version of the story. It's laced with brilliantly funny lines as one might expect from the creator of Withnail And I: dialogue relished by the uniformly excellent cast. In this, it projects the true Thompson spirit which should appeal to Gonzo fans present and future. Liberties taken (such as the inclusion of a funny acid scene) will be forgiven because they serve the countercultural subtext theme so faithfully. It all just works to make for a keeper which I believe will reward re-veiwing as much as Robinson's earlier cult-classic.

For non-Thompson fans all of this may seem completely irrelevant. It matters not a jot because this is a classy, stylish little comedy anyone can enjoy. Ignore the nay-sayers.
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on 19 February 2012
I really don't understand why some people don't rate this movie at all. It takes all sorts, I suppose. For me, The Rum Diary is an often hilarious drama and something a bit different for Johnny Depp who plays the role of Paul Kemp, an American journalist who goes to work for a small and struggling newspaper in the America owned island of Puerto Rico during the 1960s. Kemp says, at the job interview, that his c.v. is as phoney as his stories. Over all, the newspaper staff seem to be a dysfunctional lot surviving on booze and drugs, red-eyed Kemp included as he swigs back the rum and tries to fit into the local hispanic scene with little success. But, it's hard to keep out of trouble when you go falling for a rich man's wife (Amber Heard), and a crooked rich man (Aaron Eckhart) at that.

I thought I would never say it but, in this, there are times that Johnny Depp is not a pretty sight. There is one scene in particular that had me rolling in the aisles, so to speak. When he and a colleague are in a small car together, a couple of gringos being chased by nasty Puerto Ricans. I laugh as I type, at the memory of it. If you check the trailer on YouTube, it shows a bit of it.

Kemp's accommodation is garbage but Puerto Rico looks fun. I went there in the 90s and it wasn't half as lively. I must have checked into the wrong hotel.

I'm not in the least surprised to find that I enjoyed this movie because it was directed by Bruce Robinson who directed the classic and hilarious British movie, 'Withnail & I' (1987) as well as *Still Crazy (1998).

The Rum Diary movie is based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, available at Amazon.

* Error - My mistake and I have been corrected by GlynLuke: Bruce Robinson didn't direct Still Crazy he starred in it. Thanks, GlynLuke. :)

Love it or hate it, I guess.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2011

By 'flat' I mean there are no real spikes along the way to really hook you in. The Rum Diary is a film about finding your voice and yet in search of a voice of its own. Entertaining, yes, but weirdly lacking 'something' to make it all gel together.

Depp channels Hunter magnificently (again) and the plot bounces along at a spritely pace, but it is entirely without focus in telling the real story of how the fictional Paul Kemp became Hunter S. Thompson. The bastards win, pessimism prevails, there is lots of drinking and a few brief honest glimpses of what it is to be a writer (the unflattering description of Kemp's CV sums it up). Sandwiched into the proceedings is a 'go nowhere' romantic sub-plot, a slew of set-ups that are deliciously pulled out from under the viewer as everything falls apart and pedestrian, almost TV movie direction from Bruce Robinson. Seriously, if you missed it at the cinema, the television/home cinema experience won't detract.

On the plus side, it is well written. Bruce Robinson's script is literate and layered - maybe too layered with various plot strands - but The Rum Diary could almost be a prequel to Terry Gilliam's 'Fear & Loathing'.

The film leads you along but takes you to the one place you never expected - a marina theft for a gloomy finale. Try and throw your expectations out of the window when watching this, it might even benefit from a second viewing, because there are lots of hidden treasures in The Rum Diary - they're just obscured by a rambling, excessive plot that burns out and manages to turn this flaw into a redeeming feature. Watch it, you'll know what I mean!
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on 28 May 2013
Anyone familiar with past efforts to film Hunter S. Thompson's work will know that the results have been something of a mixed bag - which could be putting it mildly.

Bruce `Withnail' Robinson, one of several directors mooted for 1998's adaptation of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS - and who flatly turned it down, sadly - takes the helm of the cinematic adaptation of THE RUM DIARY. The book was one of Thompson's first to be written - and one of the last to be published - as such, Robinson arguably benefits from having a more linear narrative than some of Thompson's later work from which to cleave a script.

After impressing many - including Thompson himself - with his turn as Raoul Duke in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Depp effectively reprises his role as another one of Thompson's half-crazy, wired alter-egos. He is Paul Kemp, a would-be novelist who arrives in Puerto Rico to work for the San Juan Star, a local rag that is rapidly sinking amidst empire-building, civil unrest and the cost of keeping the American Dream alive. Journalism provides Kemp with a full-time excuse for not pursuing his career as a novelist, and he finds himself drawn into political scandal, sun-fuelled lust and long hot nights filled with cockfights and witch-doctory.

As you might expect, alcohol and chemical abuse features among Kemp's misfit cronies as a supporting cast member, but it is incidental (compared with some of Thompson's work, anyway) to a story that focuses heavily on its place in the sun - namely a relatively carefree era brought to an end by greed, corruption and a blind eye to the symptoms of poverty in Latin America. Robinson's direction is deft, with his influence obvious in both the score and photography - the vivid colours and images perfectly convey both ends of the Latin economic spectrum, and you can almost smell the sweat and expirated booze of the gambling pits and bars.

For me, the union of Depp (the obvious choice to play Thompson again) and Robinson was made in heaven and long overdue. The script is unmistakably Robinson's, with moments of incisive genius in the dialogue that could only have come from his cannonball of a brain. The ever-brilliant Giovanni Ribisi almost steals the whole show as the psychotic (and Withnail lookalike?) Moberg, Aaron Eckhart is delicious as the sleazy Sanderson, while Amber Heard is a perfect casting choice for the positively ethereal Chenault.

Although the movie appears to distil Thompson's world-view into some fairly simplistic chunks - the exchanges between Kemp and Lotterman, while effective, tend to spoon-feed the viewer - it's important to remember Thompson was only 22 when he started the book. More is made of the political intrigue element of the plot than in the book, which is arguably necessary to prevent it from becoming just another series of stand-alone scenes, and it is sometimes a little hard to reconcile Depp's portrayal of the laconic, booze-addled Kemp with the champion of liberty and integrity that he periodically waxes grandiose about.

It does suffer from some pacing problems towards the middle, and it probably isn't for everyone - particularly if you're not a Thompson or a Depp fan. But I do believe that if you come to the movie cold and are prepared to unwind and pay attention to every line (there are some key blink-and-you'll-miss them moments) then you may very well enjoy this slice of sun, sea and sextuple-vision.
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on 15 September 2013
This film is aesthetically beautiful, really! High five to the editors. Set in 1960s Puerto Rico, the film fills you with that summer time feel. The story does not compete necessarily with the book; there are a few plot changes (as with every novel adaptation), but they work and are unlikely to offend you if you're a big Hunter S. Thompson fan. This film is a good way to waste an hour and a half, whereas, I'm sure you'll agree, many films become tedious and other activities soon grab hold of your attention, ie, browsing the fridge. There are funny moments too but I won't spoil this by listing them here.

Chenault - I cannot lie - you just want to be her in parts of this film. However, having been a fan of the book I felt that the screen writer (Bruce Robinson) could have given her character much more depth, although Amber Heard worked well with what she was given. In essence, a character who was some what tragic was turned quite literally into the Hollywood cliché of a pretty girl leaving a rich man for a poor man. Sigh! However, someone has since pointed out to me that novels are intended to make you think and films are meant to be enjoyed, so I can't really complain.

Overall, however, I highly recommend!
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2014
I have to say that this Johnny Depp ‘vehicle’ is not as good as the brilliant adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s other book ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in which Depp also starred. It was nice to see Giovanni Ribisi (Pheobe’s brother in Friends) as an alcholic waster character, but it wasn’t a big part. The lovely Amber Heard was okay as the love interest but very reminiscent of Domino in Thunderball, although her motivation for wanting to scoot off with JD’s character was unclear.

Based in Peurto Rico in the 1950′s this is a story of a struggling journalist / writer trying to stay of the booze and do some quality work for the struggling local paper and ultimately challenging the ‘bastards’ – moneyed elite – that want to build a hotel on a untouched island and basically rape Peurto Rico for all its resources while the local population lives in poverty. So you may be able to tell the film tries to balance the serious aspect with the post ‘Hangover’ requirements for silly japes. For me it didn’t work very well, but it did make me want to read the book.
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Johnny Depp plays Paul Kemp, a New Yorker hired to work at a newspaper in San Juan (1960). The paper is going down hill. The editor, Richard Jenkins, wants new blood, even though Paul appears to be everything he doesn't want in an employee. There is unrest outside, but no one at the newspaper knows what is going on. The humor is fast and witty. The man Paul is replacing was "artistic" and "raped to death" by sailors.

Paul Kemp is a Hunter S.Thompson clone. He was hired because the editor likes his style of writing. He is placed in charge of writing horoscopes, something he makes up. He describes the obese Yankee tourists as "great whites" the most deadly creature known to man. They are afraid to venture outside of their hotel, spending their days bowling, gambling, and duty free shopping. The more you spend, the more you save. His writings tend to be cynical.

Aaron Eckhart is a wealthy mobster/businessman, Amber Heard is his free spirited gf who causes everyone grief. Aaron needs a writer (PR man) with new eyes, and Paul sets his bloodshot eyes on Amber, a woman who considers clothes optional. There is also criticism of today's conservatives as Paul remarks about Nixon, "Some day some filthy hoar-beast will make him look like a liberal." While watching the Nixon-Kennedy debate, through a pair of binoculars on a neighbors TV, Paul is able to predict a Kennedy victory because "I do horoscopes." The humor is off-beat, cynical, and hard hitting like Thompson. A local proclaims, "This country was founded on genocide and slavery...then they brought in Jesus like a bar of soap."

The movie is also critical of the dummy-down media who kills stories so as to not offend their advertisers. In the film, capitalism is destroying Puerto Rico, creating a war of haves vs. have-nots while Cuba turns to communism. A rich man claims, "Liberals are college educated communists with Negro thoughts." To them the problem with the world is the communists. The movie takes a leftist look at the world as it plays out in the microcosm of Puerto Rico.

Paul is caught between the two worlds and must make a choice.

The movie is not all political. Just as you think Paul has reached bottom, he discovers "a drug so powerful that the FBI gives it to communists." NOTE: LSD in liquid form, administered to the eye should be done in split drops with three full drops being way too much, possibly causing hallucinations...or so I've been told.

Good acting, good script, funny and very entertaining. Staunch conservatives might be critical of the leftist views contained in this Hollywood film. A must view for Hunter S. Thompson fans.

F-bomb, excessive drinking, drug use. Was that Amber topless is a dimly lit love scene?
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on 17 May 2012
`The Rum Diary', without a doubt is the funniest and the most satisfying political satire I have ever seen, having surpassed `Goodbye Lenin!` to the second place in my all time favourites of the genre. And, it is most likely that it will remain so, because this film is an outstanding achievement in which the otherwise unpalatable story of US imperialism in Latin America is told with such gaiety, but with unflinching realism and heart warming humanity, that every second of the film is an absolute joy.

Johnny Depp, with his own studio `Infinitum Nihil`, has now taken to producing `indie' gems like this, following the footsteps of Robert Redford, George Clooney and Sean Penn. He should rib tickle anyone into sustained laughter from his first appearance in the film to the last, without trying hard to play funny that is. It is not his mere appearance in a 50's hairstyle and attire that makes one laugh, but the subtle nuances this ingenious actor brings into the role as an ambitious, but aimless, and alcoholic journalist who is searching for a purpose to his otherwise frivolous life.

The story behind 'The Rum Diary' is as interesting as the film itself. The movie is adapted from a book that Hunter S Thompson, the heroic crusader, started writing during his unsuccessful but eventful sting as a journalist in Puerto Rico in the early 60's. Thompson never managed to get it published then, despite numerous attempts and a number of rewrites, and had practically given it up until the late 90's. The book was finally published in 1998, and following another protracted and despairing search to produce the movie version and a number of failed attempts later, Depp, a close friend of Thompson, finally rescued the project in 2009 to give us the movie, sadly though 4 years after the death of the much loved author.

Then, this literally rum-drenched film landed on the lap of the writer-director Bruce Robinson who hadn't touched a drop of alcohol for six and a half years by that time and, more importantly, hadn't directed a film since `Jennifer 8' (1992), due to his long held disenchantment with the film industry, in spite of his unforgettable achievements in direction such as `Withnail & I' (1987) and `How to Get Ahead in Advertising' (1989). When a massive writer's block took the better of him, Robinson turned to alcohol again and completed the script drinking a bottle a day, but remained sober until the last stages of shooting in Puerto Rico, when "some savage drinking took place" he says, thanks to bad boy Johnny!

Thompson's novel is filmmaker's gold, because it offers almost everything which makes a film a success. There is political strife hanging over like a dark cloud throughout, in a bitterly divided nation solely run by US interests. Here, the contrast between the disadvantaged and exploited natives and the luxurious and hedonistic lifestyles of the expatriates is as blatant as the disparity between the shanties of the poor and the lavish hotels that occupy much of the virgin beaches, on which the locals are not allowed. Then there is the rum and drug fuelled satire coming from the world weary US journalists, who are stuck in this godforsaken place and have little to lose and nothing at all to gain from being there. The humour is dark and sardonic but intelligent and meaningful. Then there is intrigue and suspense, all too real and unpredictable. Add in one of the most scintillating and erotically charged romances ever, in the form of a wild, bewitchingly sexy and seemingly unattainable seductress, and we have a winner, not to mention the black magic and cock fighting that is!

Robinson is back to his usual panache, in simply but brilliantly capturing the realities of a fast disintegrating nation, ably aided by memorable performances all round and by a light-hearted score from Christopher Young, which beautifully compliments the humorous tone of the movie. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is simply sublime in portraying the rustic and dilapidated world of the real Puerto Rican, in stark contrast to the paradise that it is for the affluent.

I believe that `The Rum Diary' is a must see for those who value cinema as an indispensable medium for socio-political discourse, although it offers enough to keep anyone engaged and chuckling to the very end.
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on 10 April 2012
OK, it wasn't the most interesting of films, but it was good fun. I found it a bit slow to get started. I just love Johnny Depp and as someone else mentioned, he wasn't always a pretty sight (as Paul unKempt), but he's still hugely appealing (and he's what attracted me to the film in the first place)! It was a harmless and enjoyable film, hilarious in parts, where Kemp gets into plenty of scrapes in spite of himself and too much rum. Working in Puerto Rico as a journalist for a badly managed newspaper, he becomes obsessed with the fiancée of a corrupt businessman and finds himself in a sticky situation when it comes to the businessman's dodgy dealings. As Kemp is fundamentally a good guy, everything turns out well in the end.
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on 22 April 2012
A big commercial flop, this intelligent comedy was dismissed by the critics and ignored by the public, and yet I must say that I quite enjoyed it. It is based on a novel of the same name by the late journalist Hunter Thompson. Johhny Depp stars as Paul Kemp, an alter ego of Thompson (Depp had already played a character based on Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

Set in 1960, as the movie begins we see Kemp arriving in Puerto Rico in an alcoholic haze. After an interview with Lotterman, its editor, Kemp gets a job in an English language newspaper there that has seen better days. Kemp becomes pal with two other alcoholic reporters in the paper, the crazy Moberg and the cynical Sala. These three are soon living together in a decrepit house in San Juan and are involved in a series of humorous adventures. The closest thing this movie has to a regular plot is when Kemp is contacted by Sanderson, an enigmatic businessman (Aaron Eckhart, who is great). Sanderson introduces Kemp to various businessmen and politicians and wants to recruit him to write a puff job in the paper so that an island that serves as practice range for the military would be available for the construction of hotels. Sanderson has a very pretty girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), who soon tries to seduce Kemp. Kemp eventually wants to write about the various corrupt plots he learns in the newspaper, but he is vetted the very cynical Lotterman, who doesn't want to rock the place, and instead thinks the newspaper should do soft pieces.

I'm not telling anything more about the movie, but it makes for a pretty entertaining film. It's intriguing to me that this film was not well received, perhaps for some it has too broad a style for a comedy, given the subject matter. The great recreation of the era certainly helps.
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