The Rum Diary (15)
Release date: Friday November 11
Cast: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, Ed Wood), Michael Rispoli (Kick Ass, The Sopranos), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking), Amber Heard (Drive Angry, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane).
Director: Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I, How To Get Ahead In Advertising)
Screenwriter: Bruce Robinson – script (Withnail and I, How To Get Ahead In Advertising), Hunter S. Thompson – novel (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Where the Buffalo Roam)
Running Time: 120 mins
When the obituary for John Christopher Depp is written – hopefully many, many years from now – two aspects of his career will garner the majority of the column inches. Firstly his $4,000,000,000 pay cheque for his four outings as Captain Jack Sparrow and secondly the 4,000,000,000 collaborations with Tim Burton.
While on that day there’ll be a few tears wept for his passing, it’ll be even more of a crying baby shame if, away from the eyepatches and eyeliner, not a single line is given to his two twisted turns giving life to the creations of legendary journo / novelist Hunter S. Thompson. Because looking at his CV – Ed Wood aside – they are far and away the best work the man’s ever done.
Based on the classic novel of the same title, fictionally detailing the start of Hunter’s career, we follow Paul Kemp, a wannabe author and part-time journalist as he moves to Puerto Rico looking for something to spur his typewriter into action. Within minutes of his arrival, carrying a hangover caused by his “upper end of social” drinking habit, Kemp is informed that his predecessor met a vicious end in a public bathroom. But that turns out not to be the biggest menace on the island, because behind the bohemia lurks something much more terrifying: here there be bastards.
It would be easy to be be cute about the reasons Johnny Depp chose to make a film on a luxuriously sun-kissed island, where he gets to drive fast cars, smoke and drink in every scene and make out with Amber Heard, but these myriad of bonuses pale in comparison to paying dues to his late friend.
And the dues are well paid. Depp and Robinson present a much less cartoony version of the Gonzo creator than the Fear and Loathing Duke but one equally perversely poetic. Opening as a man confessing that he ‘doesn’t know how to write like me’, The Rum Diary can be read as a coming-of-age tale. The coming-of-age of one of the angriest and honest writers in American literature.
The voiceover, lifted wholesale during Terry Gilliam’s take, rears its head all too rarely here, offering one of those few occasions where you want to hear more from a narrator. And the film is subtler in almost all respects than its 1997 predecessor. So while there’s plenty of gurning for the trailers, the real power in Depp’s performance lies in the masked rage. The look of deep-seated venom he wears as he watches Nixon on TV is one of the finest moments of his career.
Elsewhere, away from the Depp / Hunter show, GK Films and its head Graham King have assembled a film for grown-ups. Bruce Robinson, filming only his fourth feature, balances the crazy with the rational, while the rest of the accomplished cast – from Rispoli, as a much, much more muted but equally ‘attorney’ type figure, to Ribisi, playing a Hitler-obsessed religious correspondent – fit perfectly.
All in all, Hunter would be proud.
It may now be six years since his passing but HST lives on in a testimonial meriting his talents. As his alter ego puts it, “I’m putting the bastards on notice with a voice of ink and rage”.