Looking through glassy eyes, it’s hard to find focus, even if your intentions were to have a good time. It’s the same story for Johnny Depp’s toast to Hunter S. Thompson in The Rum Diary. The heart is in the right place, but this one stumbles around a little too much.
The film is based on the long lost novel of the same name that Thompson wrote in the 1960’s, but didn’t publish until 1998. Depp supposedly found the material amongst Thompson’s things and has since been key in getting the film produced.
The story involves journalist Paul Kemp (Depp) who takes a job at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. His sleazy editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) immediately sets the tone of the film by asking Kemp if he’s drunk and how much he drinks. Kemp replies in a Thompson-esque voice “The high end of social.”
From there, Kemp is wooed by Sanderson, (Aaron Eckhart) a developer who has plans to get rich by developing the lush island. It’s Sanderson’s attempt to control the media in his favor.
The film is somewhat autobiographical because Thompson did apply at the San Juan Star, but didn’t get the job. It’s completely autobiographical in regards to how Depp, for a second time, entertains by channeling Thompson. It’s a treat to hear the witty dialogue come rolling off his mumbling tongue.
Another standout is Sanderson’s fiancee', played by the luscious Amber Heard. Her character Chenault is like a beautiful tidal wave. She’s literally the girl that talks you into speed racing the brand new car you’ve just been given by daddy.
If there was a main point, it’s how Kemp tries to use his righteous journalistic integrity to save the people of Puerto Rico from a greedy American developer. Still this is more of a rum fueled exercise in functional alcoholism. I feel like they touched on everything that Thompson was, but didn’t deliver that gonzo element.