In the 1950’s Hunter S. Thompson would pen a novel that wouldn’t see the light of day for more than 40 years. Its path to the theaters wasn’t much smoother as it languished in development hell for the better part of a decade before writer/director Bruce Robinson and Johnny Depp (Thompson’s original choice for the role) were attached in 2009. The story follows the exploits of Paul Kemp (Depp), a struggling novelist, who leaves New York to accept a job no one else wants at The Daily News in Puerto Rico. The film also stars Amber Heard who the camera doesn’t so much love as continuously lust after in every scene she appears.
The film follows the misadventures of Kemp including his friendship with the paper’s lead photographer (Michael Rispoli) and his reluctant involvement in a land grab scheme by a buisness man named Samuelson (Aaron Eckhart). Kemp’s part in the scheme is made more difficult by his inability to stop drinking and his instant fascination to Samuelson’s girl, Chenault (Heard). Did I mention how pretty she was?
The Rum Diary, much like the writer from whom it takes its story, proceeds in fits and starts with moments of genius (and also gets lost wandering listlessly about from time to time). There are some clever moments including when Kemp learns the fate of the man he’s hired to replace (a joke so good I won’t dare ruin it for you here), but the plot and themes jump around wildly leaving the film without a central purpose or message.
Is The Rum Diary about a writer trying to find his voice. Maybe it’s about an angry man attempting to take down the evil corporation? How about an enlightened spirit standing up for the troddened down masses? Or is it about the power of the newspaper? Maybe it’s about how the love of a good woman can inspire even the laziest drunk? Yes, to all of them. Of course, as I’ve already stated, the real message of the movie is Amber Heard is inanely attractive.
The film does have its share of bizarre, and at times terrifically funny moments, that include everything from an underground cockfight ring to an insane newspaper man (Giovanni Ribisi doing a Christian Bale Batman voice for reasons that are never made clear) with a love of Nazi records and 470% Proof alcohol. The film even includes hermaphroditic oracle of the dead.
Much like its protagonist the film is a overstays its welcome. It’s lack of focus and meandering story wear thin. Aside from being a little too long the film is perplexedly far too short as the final act is given to us in a pair of paragraphs rather than put to film leaving the viewer with an incomplete story and a mixed feelings about the entire enterprise.
Depp is certainly well-cast in the role Thompson wanted him for and at several times his simple reaction to events is enough to keep the film going when it has no real reason not to grind to a halt. Eckhart is used to great effect as the sleazebag businessman and Richard Jenkins has a fun, if somewhat limited, role as the paper’s editor-in-chief.
As I’ve stated Amber Heard is beautiful, lovingly captured in every frame by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. Sometimes the the mix of the right cameraman with the right actress can produce some true movie magic and that’s certainly the case here. I’d like it to be in a slightly better film, but fans of Heard shouldn’t find much to complain about. Her acting? It’s not going to blow you away but she really not required to do much other than smile and shake for the camera. And she does that very well.
If you’re patient and a fan of Johnny Depp you should give this one a chance. It’s thematically messy and far more uneven than I’d like, but it’s far better than the trainwreck I expected. And it’s got Amber Heard, who, in case you haven’t heard, looks amazing on-screen.