American Journalist Hunter S. Thompson may have passed away in 2005, but his influence can still be seen in Johnny Depp’s latest big-screen adaptation of his novel, The Rum Diary.

Depp, a longtime friend of Thompson and who previously portrayed the eccentric author’s alter-ego Raoul Duke in the 1998 movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is obviously the best candidate to play Rum diary’s protagonist Paul Kemp, an American freelance journalist writing for a dying Puerto Rican newspaper, The San Juan Star, run by editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins).

With his experience and reputation for playing eccentric characters, Depp is weirdly enough the “straight man” in the movie. Kemp is very much the average joe; a newcomer in a foreign land, a subordinate staff member, Kemp only has fellow journalists Sala (Michael Rispoli), and alcoholic, Nazi-sympathising, drug junkie Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) to rely on.

However, as Kemp is essentially an undeveloped Hunter Thompson, he possesses the same budding cynicism (and hate for Nixon) and frequent drug/alcohol trips, leading to plenty of comedic moments, providing plenty of opportunities for Depp’s oddball nature to shine through. But Kemp’s quirks still pale in comparison to his companions.

As the unhinged Moberg, Giovanni Ribsi almost steals every scene he’s in; if he’s not wobbling into the room carrying an illegal shop of alcohol and drugs, he’s off-camera playing Hitler’s rally speeches at full volume. Rispoli’s rum-loving Sala is also a quick-witted and colourful enough character for Depp’s Kemp to play wonderfully off of. Between the drug-addled trio, the movie is wonderfully funny and sharp.

But there is a secondary, less wacky set of characters with their own motives, and here’s where it gets complicated. Recognising the profit to be made from Kemp’s writing, affluent businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) hires the writer to aid him in an illegal enterprise that puts strain on the journalist’s morals. To boot, Kemp also finds himself nursing a crush on Sanderson’s stunning squeeze, Chenault (Amber Heard). Due to the lack of screen time and quirks, these people tend to fall into stereotypes, Sanderson as the arrogant upper class and Chenault as the wild, flirtatious girlfriend.

Chenault and Kemp actually seem to have a promising heat between them, but unfortunately, the couple’s scenes were never given enough emphasis for it to develop into anything else but an infatuation.

Trying to handle the different character relationships Kemp has with Sala, his editor Lotterman, Sanderson and Chenault has also made the movie disjointed, and having spent much of the move establishing the characters’ different goals, it means having even less time to finish tying up the loose ends in a conclusive and satisfying manner.

But there’s no denying that the Rum Diary is a sufficiently entertaining movie with plenty of laughs. It’s not exactly a carbon copy of the novel, but it is clear in its respect for Hunter S. Thompson’s original novel and beliefs, and some might say that is tribute enough.


Movie: The Rum Diary

Rating: 3/5
: Nov 10
Duration: 120 minutes
Language: English
Age Rating
: M18 – Sexual scene and coarse language
: Drama, Comedy, Romance

Director: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard