Origin stories are not a new concept but as of late usually they are about some guy getting into some crazy outfit and fighting crime in a sprawling urban metropolis fighting for the common man. So it is at times nice to see a film that tries that with a less outrageous type of character. The Rum Diary is a film adapted from the novel of the same name. In some ways it feels like it’s an origin of the writer of the novel Hunter S. Thompson and in a way a prequel to the last film Johnny Depp play him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The Rum Diary begins with writer Paul Kemp recently coming to Puerto Rico to take a job at the struggling San Juan Star. While there he meets a diverse cast of characters and some shady business people trying to exploit the island in their own ways. Paul also meets a beautiful young woman named Chenault that he immediately falls in love with on first site. During all these adventures he main companion is rum as he see the beauty and dark side of 1960 Puerto Rico.
Johnny Depp gives a decent performance as Kemp. It’s essentially a dialed back version of his Thompson performance. This can be assumed to show a younger not a self assured era of the character, one that has yet to use all the drugs. Michael Rispoli plays Bob Salas, a photographer at The San Juan Star. He’s Paul first guide to the paper and the island and his main sidekick throughout the film. He is really entertaining as Paul’s foil in some of the situations they get in and plays the role of fool/conscious really well.
Giovanni Ribisi plays a character Moberg that is a complete absurdity. He really takes over the screen with his over the top performance and look. Dingy, bug-eyed and weirdly voiced Ribisi is able to keep a scene non-successful scene interesting with his actions alone. Aaron Eckhart plays a PR businessman named Sanderson. Eckhart while good isn’t really stretching here. He plays great smarmy characters and does so here. He’s the heavy in this film; he’s bad but not really bad enough to be dangerous.
The one thing that excels in this film is the way it captures Puerto Rico. Bruce Robinson has some really great shots of island and the people within it living their lives. He also has really great-composed shots of the characters on screen with action going on in each plane of the frame. The costuming is really top notch. Everyone looks cool and perfectly in place even when standing in the rain or running for their lives.
There are some flaws with the story though. The part of the film where our hero Kemp has started his downfall to his low point lacks logical sense. Also it can be said that there is really not much of an arc to film but there is a strong character arc for Kemp one that follows the Hollywood favorite of Joseph Campbell. Also the film’s dialogue is very smartly written and the entire film is very funny. To tell truth you would at times think this was a comedy.
Overall this is good film it has its issue but those flaws are helped by solid performances from the actors’ charisma and skill.
Final Grade is a B