The Rum Diary
Director: Bruce Robinson
Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi
Just so we’re clear, folks: this review is about the movie and not the novel it is based on. That being said, I may reference the book to help clarify my points.
A young reporter is hired to write horoscopes and cover meaningless page-filler stories by a small, failing newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico amidst a revolt. That reporter, Paul Kemp (played by Johnny Depp), is a novelist searching for his voice. Usually he searches inside of one bottle of alcohol or another.
Before he has a chance to get his feet wet and come to understand his position at the paper or the culture found in Puerto Rico, Kemp finds himself entangled in a secret plot to capitalize a nearby island. He also falls for the girlfriend of the head of the group plotting to take advantage of the island.
The pacing of the movie is very slow, as was the pacing in the book, but the movie doesn’t have the luxury of a few hundred pages, so when the story starts rolling the movie is already nearing its end. Many great scenes at a local bar which serves only rum and hamburgers have been cut in favor of spicing things up for the big screen.
Aaron Eckhart fills the shoes of the slick and slimy bad guy effortlessly with very little to work with. Johnny Depp tones down his better known Hunter S. Thompson role enough to make it original, but lacks anything deeper than his skin to grasp onto and root for. The story is sparse and hinges on two important story arcs, one is that Kemp loves rum and the other being Kemp’s desire to use his voice at the paper to expose a wrong, so it is understandable that the book was tough to transfer to the screen. How much can you focus on a few reporters drinking at a bar and BSing? That being said, one guy nailed his part in almost eerie perfection: Giovanni Ribisi plays Moberg, an eccentric, doped up drunk who is an off again/on again contributor to the newspaper. His spaced out, awkward portrayal provides comic relief, sobering reality, and an unexpected depth of character.
Book snobs love to tell people to just go read the book because, “It’s way better”. And you know what? I agree in this case. Do yourself a favor: Grab a bottle of rum (or two), go find an empty chair in the sun, and start reading.