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film review: the rum diary

The Rum Diary brings Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name to the big screen, with Johnny Depp as its lead character, Paul Kemp. Kemp is a struggling writer with a love for alcohol that sees him start the movie with a hangover so bad he requires sunglasses indoors. He decides to earn some money by writing for a failing newspaper in Puerto Rico, where many of the staff have a similar taste for drinks of the alcoholic persuasion.

As he explores his new home and becomes involved with its most powerful residents, Kemp sees profound inequality and finds stories that he thinks are worth telling. Unfortunately, his jaded editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) thinks the only words worth writing are the ones that will keep advertisers happy. Meanwhile, a budding romance with the wealthy Hal Sanderson’s (Aaron Eckhart) girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) complicates Kemp’s relationships with the elite of Puerto Rico. When things take a turn for the worse  for both Chenault and the newspaper, Kemp enlists his few allies and tries to take a stand against the injustice he has come to resent.

Despite its relatively long run time, the film seems to be missing something – or even several somethings. The quieter, poignant moments are the highlights; such as Kemp taking photos of the extreme poverty he encounters and writing alone when he finds inspiration. This inspiration is clearly meant to be the most important element of the story, yet it gets lost amongst the drunken misadventures and confusing plot twists. The Rum Diary is almost frustrating as it is clear that there is a story to be told, but it just doesn’t quite work, and it seems that the best parts of the movie are skimmed over.

For those who know more about Hunter S. Thompson’s book and its context, this film may make more sense. As a stand-alone story though, it becomes hard to follow. Plotlines that are only implied make it difficult to be sure that you know where things are going. The end of the film comes unexpectedly, and before you have caught up, it is over.

Despite these shortcomings, Depp is likable and funny in his role. Greater exploration into his character might have made the movie more powerful. The romance between Kemp and Chenault is the one part of the film that doesn’t feel like it needed changing – there is just enough chemistry between Depp and Heard to make their story believable, and the scene where they meet is one of the most interesting. Overall though, The Rum Diary was confusing and lacking in depth – even Johnny Depp couldn’t make up for that.

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