The Rum Diary

Higher expectations can often lead to greater disappointment. It’s a cynical view, but undeniably true. What were my expectations regarding The Rum Diary? To be honest, I saw the trailer and thought, “Johnny Depp working within his wheelhouse. Aaron Eckhart supporting and Amber Heard being Amber Heard. How bad can it be?” With Diary, I got all of that—especially (read: thankfully) Amber—mixed in between a lot of unnecessary fluff.


Journalist/novelist Paul Kemp (Depp) takes a job in Puerto Rico with a small newspaper run by Lotterman (a wig-wearing Richard Jenkins). He befriends the loud-mouthed Sala (Michael Rispoli) and begins experiencing all that Puerto Rico has to offer, until he is presented with an offer by tycoon, businessman Sanderson (Eckhart). Kemp is asked to spin a story regarding urbanization on a beautiful island near PR despite his personal beliefs. To complicate matters, Kemp falls for the enchanting Chenault (Heard), Sanderson’s main squeeze.

Much like how Midnight in Paris was an ode to Paris, literature and art, Rum Diary is homage to Puerto Rico’s beauty, the 60s and Hunter S. Thompson.  Depp made this film to honor his deceased friend and made sure Thompson was portrayed in the most appropriate style possible. I guess in some respects, he succeeds since he had the experience playing (more or less) the same character in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Kemp is more subdued, but the role is basically the same Depp always plays nowadays.

The best part of Diary is the sweeping shots of Puerto Rico’s villages and beautiful beaches. While this may have been great, it does take up a good enough portion of the film that it begins to bore. Couple that with an unnecessary length (about two hours) and the film drags. This becomes most evident after the obligatory drug scene about ninety minutes into the film. Not only does the story change after this, but also the entire mood of the film changes and we finish with an unenthusiastic thud.

This is not to say the whole film was dull. Actually, the first 75% of the film is relatively intriguing. Watching Kemp calmly weigh his options as he tries to find his own literary voice becomes captivating due to Depp’s performance and the opportunities presenting themselves to Kemp. It quickly becomes clear that Kemp is the quiet guy who everyone likes since within a day of his arrival everyone has complimented him and offered him some great perks. His goal is to write raw and real stories, while everyone around him is asking for fabrications that keep the American Dream alive in a “foreign” land.

Apart from Depp and to a lesser extent Rispoli, no one is given a chance to star. Eckhart plays an egotistical businessman who is in one sense heartless and in the other a somewhat decent guy (kinda). Heard…well, you know how I feel about her. She looks even better here than usual, but Chenault is a somewhat useless character. She is really just there. The most interesting supporting character is that of Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi). Moberg is a freelance writer for the newspaper, but also a complete wreck. He’s a drunk, drug addicted, semi-intellectual, neo-Nazi and Ribisi plays him as sleazy as he does most of his roles.

While The Rum Diary did not live up to even my mild expectations, I still found it to be entertaining up to the drug scene. After that, I would even go so far as to suggest just stopping and reading the ending later; it’s that boring.

  1. Yeah this movie was definitely a let down for me too. I could not find anything to root for in Depp’s character. His partner was hysterical though. And Amber Heard’s character made no sense at all and really had nothing to do with anything. I mean she is gorgeous but I just did not see what the point of her was other than a wild child too young for this millionaire tycoon. Your reviews hits a lot of good points too. Nice write up.

    • Agreed. There was very little too root for and really build any interest in the characters. The film just kind of moved along with more focus on the urbanization of islands than making sure Kemp was our “hero”. Thanks for reading/commenting!

    • DLH
    • June 27th, 2012

    I respect Depp’s need to honor his friend, but Hunter S. Thompson was a special creature of a particular period. I read his work and enjoyed it at the time. However, neither he nor his work aged well and does not translate well to the screen. Depp should leave it to “Doonesbury” to market the updated “Duke” for consumption.

  1. June 28th, 2012

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