I’m going to take a whack at reviewing The Rum Diary, Bruce Robinson’s film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s long lost novel. Instead of hitting it head on, I’ll take two different angles: a moviegoer with no history of reading Thomspon’s works, and an avid Gonzo fan…
A Moviegoer’s trip down The Rum Diary lane…
The Rum Diary is an entertaining film, there is no denying that. There is so much going on…at times, perhaps too much. The movie skips forward here and there without much resolution.
That being said, the characters in the film are fantastic. Giovanni Ribisi stole the show as the insane and hygienically-challenged Moberg. Michael Rispoli portrayed Bob Sala, and did so expertly. Sala seemed to be a conflicted man who knows the difference between good and bad but always gives into his uncontrollable desire to take life to the next level…Whether it’s an acid trip, high-stakes cock fight, or just getting into a good ol’ fashioned drunken stupor.
Johnny Depp plays Paul Kemp, the protagonist, and seemingly the most normal person in San Juan. A journalist with some hidden integrity, Kemp, like Sala, can’t keep from giving into his own desires…On the surface, Depp’s character seems to be a bit boring, but as the movie nears its conclusion, you realize the true character that lies within him.
At times, The Rum Diary seems unfocused…Is it worth seeing? Definitely. Should you expect the movie of the year? Maybe not…but pack the rum anyway.
A Gonzo fan’s trip to the movie theater…
It is unfortunate, that’s all I have to say.
The Rum Diary is a great movie. Any fan of the great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson should make an appointment to see the film, there’s no question about that. But, as a Thompson fan, what should you expect?
Don’t expect a true adaptation of Thompson’s novel. There are incredibly similar features, but more disturbing are the striking discrepancies director Bruce Robinson created.
The most notable? The deletion of character Fritz Yeomon. Yeomon is Paul Kemp’s right-hand man in his adventures throughout the entire novel, and he’s the love interest and abuser of Chenault. How is it possible to create a movie based on the novel without an integral character like Yeomon? Well, the answer is: It is possible. But the reality is that you lose so much of the excitement and intricacies that Thompson wrote.
Another stark difference is Chenault’s loyalty. In the book, she was with Yeomon…but with no Fritz, she turns into the fiance of Sanderson in the film. As much of a role as she plays in the novel Kemp’s life, her presence in the film is lacking, to say the absolute least. The book makes her out to be a bit loony, perhaps even crazy…the movie? Just a gorgeous blonde woman who Kemp falls hopelessly in love with.
Which brings me to another striking difference…The movie Kemp seems to be a much “better” man, meaning he feels emotions and sensitivity that the novel Kemp did not. There was something ruthless about Thompson’s Kemp that got lost in the film’s translation.
There are several differences that are added most likely to just enhance the movie like Bob Sala’s involvement in a cock fighting circuit. But some additions make no sense, and in my opinion, offend me as a Gonzo fan…Particularly, I was baffled by the acid trip in the movie. In Thompson’s novel, there are no drugs. It’s a tale of alcohol, romance, violence, and selfishness. It’s not a Fear and Loathing-type story…So why try to take the movie to that level that never existed in the first place?
To that point, I will give Johnny Depp an infinite amount of points for playing Kemp as a separate character from his portrayal of the late great Doctor in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
In my opinion, The Rum Diary read like a movie, all the way through the ending. As I re-read the final “scene” of the novel, I could imagine it perfectly on the big screen…I’m confused why there wasn’t more loyalty to the original writing.
The movie shines with the acting of Giovanni Ribisi as Moberg and Michael Rispoli as Robert Sala. “…on rare occasions he showed flashes of a stagnant intelligence. But his brain was so rotted with drink and dissolute living that whenever he put it to work it behaved like an old engine that had gone haywire from being dipped in lard.” Thompson wrote that of Moberg, and nobody could’ve captured that essence better than Ribisi did. Rispoli nailed the character of Sala…I would go so far as to say he stole the show with his portrayal of Kemp’s friend.
All of this being said, I have to remove my own opinion and put trust in Depp. He, unlike nearly anyone else, knew the real Hunter S. Thompson. Depp is actually the reason The Rum Diary was published in the first place. While hanging in the Doctor’s bunker, he found the novel in a box and asked Hunter about it…The author had forgotten about it! I am sure there is no one on this planet aside from Hunter’s wife who has as deep of a respect and love for Gonzo as Depp does. So, I must take a step back and put my trust in him that the film adaptation of The Rum Diary is what Hunter would’ve wanted.
Gonzo fan or not, The Rum Diary is worth seeing. But, do not expect a direct adaptation of the novel, and do not expect a reincarnation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which, I might add, you shouldn’t expect in the first place…The Rum Diary is not Fear and Loathing. Get that through your head.).