Based on the novel written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1961, The Rum Diary takes you to Puerto Rico where journalist Paul Kemp starts off working for the San Juan Star newspaper. His adventures entail excessive drinking, a seductive blonde named Chenault and watching as the San Juan Star falls apart from all including the debauchery and conflict between the locals and the Americans.
The novel is a bit different from the movie. After reading it many years ago and hearing of the pre-production tales for the movie, I couldn’t image how this would fit. The book wasn’t published until 1998; it had an odd form to it that had to have been captured correctly in a very detailed manner in order to work well on screen. With actor prospects like Nick Nolte, Josh Hartnett and Benicio del Toro – there were high hopes for a big-budget success. However, pre-production plans kept falling through. Seven years into the process, Graham King acquired all rights to the novel and Johnny Depp was hastily cast as Paul Kemp. It’s also been reported that Amber Heard, who plays Chenault reportedly won the roll over Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley. Things were starting to happen.
On the other hand, things seemed to be slowing down. It had been six and a half years since he had a drink. It had been nineteen years since he’d directed anything. And, he was suffering from writer’s block. Bruce Robinson was chosen to be the screenplay writer and director of The Rum Diary, but things wern’t going well. So, the filmmaker decided to begin drinking again, a bottle of alcohol a day until the script was done. Robinson remembers,
“some savage drinking took place. When I was no longer in Johnny’s environment I went back to sobriety.”
As for the movie itself, not only does it stray way from the plot of the novel but it also adds in feel good messages that seem way too planted in a Hunter S. Thompson movie. I believe that Robinson and Depp did as well as they could. But with an aging debt playing a 25 year old Kemp, there are limitations. There are some crushing realizations in what seems like a coming-of-age novel, but also leaves us with a conclusion. Still, i think it is a movie worth seeing for anyone familiar with H.S.T.’s work or looking for a movie to have a few beers to, or some rum. Wait for it to come out on cable or Netflix.