The Rum Diary Review

I hate to advocate Hunter S Thompson’s tales of drugs, alcohol, and insanity, but they’ve always worked for me.

Rather obviously, The Rum Diary focuses on the middle of these three virtues and we are introduced to its protagonist and alter ego of Thompson, Paul Kemp, while he’s desperately scrabbling around his hotel room for something to aid his medical condition.

Which would be alcoholism, judging from his red ringed eyes.

Kemp has just arrived in Puerto Rico after being flown out by The San Juan Star newspaper for a job interview.

Of course, as his soon to be editor Lotterman is quick to point out, Kemp’s interview is little more than a formality, as they wouldn’t be paying for a hotel if he weren’t already hired.

Even if those dark glasses wrapped around Kemp’s incriminating eyes would suggest he’s not the surest of bets.

The Star itself is on its last legs, which is no bad thing seeing as their content revolves around peddling low level propaganda to the great white menace who feed off this south american island’s natural riches.

Also known as american tourists.

Having taken his fill of writing horoscopes and covering the bowling exploits of obese westerners, Kemp is approached by Sanderson; a smooth talking businessman who lives both on – and off of – Puerto Rico.

Seduced by Sanderson’s patter, material wealth and most alluringly his beautiful companion Chenault, Kemp finds himself drawn ever deeper into the murky under belly of the American dream and true cost of this is for anyone who doesn’t live under the banner of stars and stripes.

Like any self respecting writer, I’ve had a man crush on Hunter S Thompson since I first read Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

The Rum Diary, whilst being the second book written by Hunter at the age of 22, was only published after he’d already found fame and fortune in 1998.

In fact, Johnny Depp, who plays Paul Kemp in the film, was instrumental in this.

Having become close friends with the great writer following his portrayal of Hunter in Terry Gilliam’s cinematic version of Fear And Loathing, Depp was the one who actually rediscovered the original manuscript for The Rum Diary whilst visiting Hunter in the nineties.

Anyone familiar with Hunter’s more atavistic canon of work will have been almost disappointed with The Rum Diary, as it’s comparatively normal when placed next to the great man’s most outlandish works of fiction.

As you might expect of a novel that was written before Hunter had found his true voice, The Rum Diary is the sound of a man who’s still finding his way in this world.

And while he may not know what it is he wants to be just yet, he sure as hell knows what he doesn’t.

So I was more than intrigued to see how The Rum Diary would translate into a cinematic experience.

And the distillation process has helped produce a far more rewarding tipple.

More than a few creative liberties have been taken with the source material, with the amalgamation of the two dominant male characters and rearranging when certain events unfold, but I believe these have helped make the storyline both more accessible and satisfying.

Credit for which must lay at the feet of director Bruce Robinson, the man behind cult classic Withnail & I whom Depp managed to coax out of retirement, on condition that Robinson would also adapt the screenplay.

There aren’t many men you could trust to have a genuine insight into the mind of Hunter S Thompson, but Johnny Depp is one of those men.

The more fantastical elements Hunter was renowned for creep into Depp’s portrayal of Kemp the further his Puerto Rican journey takes him to the heart of western corruption.

And we see the beginnings of Hunter’s metamorphosis into his most infamous alter ego, Raoul Duke.

No one can doubt Depp’s motives in shaping the big screen version of The Rum Diary into a more appropriate tribute to his now departed friend, and his iconic face will help bring the paterfamilias of gonzo journalism to a brand new audience.

So buy The Rum Diary ticket and take the ride, you won’t regret it.

Jonathan Campbell

2 Responses to “The Rum Diary Review”
  1. avatar Zeo says:

    Sadly I did go to sit and didn’t understand what it was all about, thank god it was 2 free cinema tickets so £20 saved for another day, I’ve seen a lot of Johnny Depp films but this is the worst one, all of the others I’ve seen and that’s all JD films from Edward scissor hands up to the Rum Diary, I’ve understood them all but this one.

  2. avatar Editor says:

    Hi there Zeo,

    In a nutshell, Depp’s character Paul Kemp – a.k.a. Hunter’s alias – takes a journo job in puerto rico because he can’t make ends meet as a writer.

    Once there, he realises how corrupt the newspaper is; yet this pales into comparison next to american businessmen like Sanderson.

    After trying to stand against this corruption of the “american dream”, Kemp finally understands the kind of writer he wants to be.

    Depp’s an actor and this film isn’t about him; it’s essentially the tale of Hunter S Thompson finding his writing voice.

    And if you’ve seen all of Depp’s films, such as Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, you should already know this…

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Dates ‘n stuff

November 2011