I am here to tell you The Rum Diary is a very good fucking movie. A concoction rarely made in Hollywood but quietly breeding on the hills outside the cage. First, let me tell you what I am doing here. I love the movies for very easy reasons. The escape, the delightful mind game and the aftermath that leaves you in a wash of amazement. When done right, movies can transport you the fuck out of a hot, exhausting summer that’s only get revved up. The Rum Diary, adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s story about a crusading journalist going up against real estate kingpins in Puerto Rico, is one of those ridiculously hypnotic experiences that reminds you of the imagination lacking in Hollywood on a full time basis. While Christopher Nolan creates masterpieces, The Rum Diary tells a different story. A tale of hard fought journalism. Johnny Depp is the reason the movie was made. He found it in Thompson’s home a little after Hunter committed suicide and brought it to his Hollywood suits. He got it made and the story wasn’t changed in any way. Thompson’s dirty rotten bastards story line is kept intact and for good reason. If you can dig down deep into the plot full of rum, bad decisions, dangerous women and consequences followed by serious action, you will find a lesson with a slow pulse. As Thompson’s muse in the Rum Diary, Depp’s Paul Kemp explains to his readers, “There will be ink, full of rage.” When you like a movie, you walk the streets explaining how great it can be and try to convince people to see through the crazy subplots and recognize a moral. Some movies need a little time and patience. They don’t deliver the goods in the first half of the movie yet struggle to keep the stranglehold on the audience. It’s not easy to do anymore. Instead of dusting off fine old books and putting them in motion, Hollywood wants to dust off a franchise or do another remake. Where’s the creativity gone? People do their best work when they don’t seem to care as much what the entire world will think of their product. We need more renegades in Hollywood. Bruce Robinson and Johnny Depp take that leap of faith in this movie. A mad man tale about taking your last shot at redemption. How many armies can a single man build?
In the movie, Paul Kemp comes to Puerto Rico looking for work with a newspaper to mull his writers block on a novel. Kemp is a drunk and a seeker. He moves with the current of crazy addictions. He gets involved with the wrong people, makes a bad friends, and finds himself being a hired writing gun for a real estate shark to steal an island for hotel construction. Soon enough, full of booze, drugs and paranoid momentum, he finds himself coming out of his haze and realizing the story he must write. Too bad the paper he works at is closing up shop due to a lack of creativity. Kemp finds himself in a state of moral clarity yet sees his hands tied. All the while, falling in love with a beautiful woman named Chenault(Amber Heard, classy and sexy as ever). Depp is the perfect man to step into Thompson’s world of madness. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he played a bumbling writer on a road trip to hell. Here, he plays a man pulling everything together at the wrong time. A man who wants to fight the good fight and only needs a barrel of ink, willing eyes and paper to make it happen. Johnny Depp hasn’t aged a bit as he turns 49 this year and he is a uniquely versatile actor because he can play any role and seem convincing. He can go on rants and sound profound while looking out of sorts. He can do it all and isn’t afraid of any choices. The man who plays a cutthroat pirate can also play a lawyer and an alcoholic writer. I admire him as much as I like him, because he doesn’t fake anything. He was a close friend of Hunter S. Thompson’s and got the movie made to honor his memory. Thompson was a different kind of journalist. A gonzo journalist. A form of reporting where the reporter inserts himself into the story to make the idea seem more interesting and wild. Thompson didn’t just write stories. He lived them. Every damn moment. I like that. Calling his work an acquired taste is like calling whiskey a muscle relaxer. It doesn’t begin to explain the appeal or ultimate delight.
The Rum Diary is worth watching because it’s different, doesn’t answer all the questions, nor does it feature characters who we can nail down inside 5 minutes. It’s original, fresh and quietly provocative. At the heart of it is the battle for the soul of true journalism and the unfortunate state of the newspapers at the moment. For a movie taking place in 1960, The Rum Diary tells a timely tale and asks a good question. Do we still tell the news or merely print it? Somewhere, Aaron Sorkin would appreciate this movie.
Watch the movie or buy the book. Find the soundtrack as well. They are all worth seeking out.
“Like most others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles – a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other – that kept me going.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary