The Rum Diary (2011)

by Corinne Rizzo

If ever there was a situation where in the torture and tolerance of a specific writer’s mind, as it sits decades ahead of itself, was set on display, The Rum Diary would certainly establish itself on the latter end of his career spanning spectrum. But also on some of the most former ends, as well. A long labor of diligence and defeat and disillusionment is the story of The Rum Diary. The cinematic debut of Hunter S. Thompson’s earliest and most fictitious efforts is a display of the writer at work and the devoted on parade — truly a celebration of the man, his grip on reality, despite his reputation for public intox, and his warnings for the future. Watch out young writers, the disease of writerly guilt is heavy in this film and it is contagious.

An early and eager attempt to join the ranks of fiction writers in his day, and what seems to be heavily influenced by Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson brought upon his readers, Paul Kemp and his journey into the depths of the American dream. A patriot in his own right, Thompson lived to remind his readers and the followers of his philosophy of freedom, not as a country but as a race of human beings. Homosapiens. Animals.

Sound familiar?

One might be hard pressed to not consider other tales of Thompson when preparing for what to expect for this film. Some would even go out of their way to exclude Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Where The Buffalo Roam, to proudly display their understanding The Rum Diary is of fictional persuasion. Not to be lumped in with other films using Thompson as our main character. Truthfully though, there is a comparison to be drawn and a further understanding of a lesson we learn repeatedly with Thompson.

So Kemp, played by Johnny Depp (a devotee on parade himself), wakes up in San Juan, caccooned in a hotel suite paid for by a tourist based local paper. The curtains drawn and room trashed, shows the possibilities of the evening before; Kemp himself a little worse for wear.

He has arrived to set to work for said tourist paper writing horoscopes when, out shooting photographs of the country one day, the reality of dharma sets in, sending Kemp to dig deeper within his reporting and pushing to expose the atrocity of  the greedy animalistic nature of man.

Unfortunately for Kemp, The San Juan Star is a paper on the outs and most of his in depth work gets shoved aside for being too heavy or too honest.  Lotterman, the Star’s editor, often reminds Kemp of the worthlessness of reporting real news to the resort bound tourists on the island. The financial effect of not letting a sleeping dog lie.

The authenticity of these characters like Lotterman is what lend a real edge to the film. Reading the novel, one sees all sides of San Juan from one man. The novel offers what the reader needs in a poetic and fleeting way and the film follows suit. While most of the characters slide right in with what one would read in text, Moberg, a highly functioning drunk for his intake, takes the most getting used to. Luckily enough for the viewer, Giovanni Ribisi pulled it together toward the end to help create a trifecta of defeat for our characters. The point in which most stories end and others begin. Clear enough is the idea that Moberg is excessive and volatile, though through most of the film the viewer feels distanced from such a potentially amusing character. Thompson’s steps to create this character as friendly and deplorable all at once must have resonated with Director Bruce Robinson and Giovanni Ribisi, which makes for a convincing Moberg.

Depp’s responsibilities to the film seem almost innate by now and redundant to even mention, but respectfully, the man does an excellent job of relating Kemp as Thompson in a time of getting one’s feet wet, learning that the high road isn’t as clean and sober as it sounds and that that’s OK, as long as we all end up in the same place. And reminding his readers, friends and, family, that we will all end up in the same place, was just one of Thompson’s efforts.

Anyone who avoids the comparison of this film against any previous films involving Thompson, just because the novel was published as Fiction, would be missing a huge chunk of the legacy that the man provided to his image. The film moves slowly at times, as the novel does. It is worth the perseverance. Like Kerouac, Thompson is everywhere in his writing and Bruce Robinson safely captures that while displaying a truly stylish and timeless snapshot of American fiction. The American dream. One man’s story and all that jazz.

Grade: A-

(Because nothing man made is ever perfect.)

Top Five Reasons to See The Rum Dairy:

1)   Because if you’ve read it, you can make cool comparisons to the book at dinner after the movie like you used to do in class in college.

2)   If you’re a writer, it will remind you that it has been too long since you’ve written.

3)   They don’t let you leave without memorial to Thompson.

4)   Giovanni Ribisi as Moberg.

5)   Cockfighting.

Posted on November 4, 2011, in REViEW and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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