Based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel of the same name, The Rum Diary is a likeable film — for its locations (Puerto Rico) and the leading man Johnny Depp's super turn. The Rum Diary, however, does not make the cut for a great film. It is too unfocussed and embarrassingly naïve (“rage and ink” is just one of the cringe-worthy, toe-curling lines) to keep the viewer riveted to the proceedings on screen.

When you consider this is a fictionalised account of Thompson's stint in Puerto Rico and Thompson is one of the most incisive and individual critics of his times apart from giving birth to the gonzo style of journalism (a personal, subjective reportage eschewing the objective style favoured), the movie is strangely muted and unfortunately Hollywoodised.

The scenes where journalist Paul Kemp (Depp), who comes from New York to Puerto Rico to work in The San Juan Star, and his friend, the photographer Sala, abuse all manner of substances work brilliantly. Kemp's “Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet” sounds and tastes exquisite. The sights and sounds of Puerto Rico in the 1960s are superbly recreated.

It is only when Kemp gets all righteous against Sanderson (a brilliantly understated Eckhart), a wheeler dealer who has wicked schemes to despoil paradise that one begins to drift. The whole thing of the journalist in search of truth, out to expose the scum bags and a paper that is run by a bank and advertisers sounded shallow and vaguely like the Bokadia films of the Eighties. Has the world grown old or is it just me?

The love angle between the beautiful Chenault (Amber Heard) and Kemp works fitfully, and only because Depp is a good actor. Director Robinson who had apparently been sober for six and a half years before he sat to write the script suffered a writer's block. He started drinking again and drank a bottle a day till he finished the script. Maybe he should have abstained and then we would've had a movie that could hold up a gonzo mirror to our jaded eyes. More is the pity.

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English Cinema ReviewsOctober 17, 2011