Duke & The Movies

Film Criticism


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Written by: Sam Fragoso on October 27, 2011

October 27, 2011 | 22 comments | Featured, Old Format

The Rum Diary

Gonzo journalism pertains to gritty and personal writing, attacking the core of an event or person – and abandoning all things polished and censored by mainstream media. The Rum Diary, based on a book by Hunter S. Thompson (who we’ve come to believe is the founder of this type of jagged journalism) is a jarringly dull and ironically impersonal piece of filmmaking.

Set in 1960, it stars Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp (in representation of Thompson) a middling novelist who accepts a job as a freelance journalist for a local newspaper in Puerto Rico.

He’s assigned, initially, to do dogs work: write horoscopes, interview tourists at a bowling alley, and any other insignificant, thankless subject matters.

As time transpires, Kemp’s loyalty is tested once he meets a wealthy consultant by the name of Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart) – who offers the perplexed novelist a prominent position as a writer for his new real estate venture.

Swept up in Island culture, money, and Sanderson’s exotic girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), Kemp becomes increasingly indifferent towards just about everything. The local paper that initially hired him is going down the drain, fast. Chenault is not everything she appears to be. And his newfound business partner pans out being the pompous, self-righteous businessman we knew he would be.

But worst of all, Kemp isn’t writing. And when he does, his boss Lotterman (played by Richard Jenkins) shuts him down for his humorous, sincere, and honest articles – lacking sugar coating and manipulation.

And there’s your birth of Gonzo journalism.

The fact that Rum Diary has been sitting on production shelves for three years and is just now getting dumped into theaters is really no surprise. The picture, as opposed to one of Thompson’s articles, doesn’t contain a voice of any kind. It just lies in its mediocrity, constantly veering into the absurdity and only scarcely becoming interesting.

It was love at first site. Amber Heard (left) and Johnny Depp (right) star in "The Rum Diary." Comes out this Friday.

Even Johnny Depp, our biggest so-called movie star, can’t do much to save this sinking boat. While I suspect Thompson is a worthy subject to watch on screen, the character of Paul Kemp is extraordinarily bland. There’s some charisma within the character, sure– but it runs out in about the third act. Perhaps that’s when Depp realized he’s headlining in a lackluster affair.

Amid some truly hilarious scenes and solid performances from the whole cast, The Rum Diary is poorly executed, from its aimless storytelling to trite artistry, only to be exacerbated with an insurmountable two-hour run time that feels about five.

To quote some of Kemp’s final lines of wisdom to his counterparts in regards to the corrupt, “It’s the smell of bastards. It’s also the smell of truth. I smell ink.” At that point, I just wantedT to stand up and say it’s also the smell of a relentlessly tedious movie.

On the upside, at least the title of a film finally correlates to what happens on screen. For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of consumption of rum, rum, and yes, more rum.

Rating: ★½☆☆

The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary (2011)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli

Director: Bruce Robinson

Writer: Bruce Robinson, Hunter S. Thompson

Runtime: 120 minutes

Genre: thriller, romance, drama

Trailer The Rum Diary


There are 22 comments for this post.

  1. Vik V. on October 27, 2011 11:28 am

    Well, that sucks. I was immensely looking forward to it. I highly recommend the book, Thompson is an awesome writer. Based of the trailer, the movie is quite different from it, though. (Chenault is not even Sanderson’s girlfriend in the novel, for example.) Great review, although I don’t think your description of Gonzo journalism is a very accurate one.

  2. Duke on October 27, 2011 11:48 am

    It’s the type of writing dismissing claims of objectivity. I’m not too familiar with it. Looking forward to reading, though.

    Could you provide me with a valid explanation of this type of journalism?

  3. Vik V. on October 27, 2011 1:55 pm

    Sure: You’re right when you say it dismisses claims of objectivity, but if anything it’s honest and sincere in it’s own way, and often humorous, too. I don’t believe it’s manipulative because it unabashedly admits it’s not objective at all, which can’t be said about a lot of journalism today. It’s incredibly hard to be objective, even if wanting it too. Take the Palestin/Israel conflict for example, almost every term in this context has some sort of either negative or positive connotation to it (Zoonist, Jew, Arab, Israeli, the list goes on.) I think this would fit the definition of manipulative a lot more than Gonzo journalism would. It’s incredibly hard in that example for a reader to even realize if he is being manipulated. With Gonzo, which is indeed gritty and personal writing as you say, it’s evident that it’s not objective and this makes you see the stance of the author from his perspective, and thus the reader also sceptical enough to not accept everything, as it’s very opinionated. As Thompson himself said, “Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”
    It’s often written from a first person perspective, and probably the most important characteristic is that it takes the author as kind of “the main character”, if you will. That probably doesn’t explain it fully either, but that’s it, basically. I’m not sure if the film mentions Gonzo journalism (the book didn’t at all) like the way you describe it, but if yes, I wouldn’t say it’s correct.

  4. Duke on October 27, 2011 2:00 pm

    Vik…. I’m not sure if you mis read my review, or you’re just regurgitating my stuff, but I said it’s honest and sincere and humorous. I mentioned it’s not manipulative either.

    The film scarcely mentions Gonzo, but it comes up. Remember that this was before his prominent carer began – a prequel if you will.

    Thanks for reading.

  5. Steven Flores on October 27, 2011 2:57 pm

    Richard Perkins? Don’t you mean Richard Jenkins?

  6. Duke on October 27, 2011 3:43 pm

    I do! Thank you very much Mr. Flores.

  7. Dirtywithclass on October 27, 2011 4:22 pm

    After the Tourist fiasco i figured Depp would choose his roles better. I guess i was wrong

  8. Duke on October 27, 2011 5:43 pm

    He made this before the Rum Diary. If you read carefully, you’d remember I talked about how the film was made three years ago ;)

  9. Vik V. on October 27, 2011 9:16 pm

    Then I did misinterpret: ” And when he does, his boss Lotterman (played by Richard Jenkins) shuts him down for his humorous, sincere, and honest articles – lacking sugar coating and manipulation.
    And there’s your birth of Gonzo journalism.”
    Not having seen the film, I thought you meant by this that he at first wrote articles fitting the characteristics of honest etc., but then gets shut down for it and *then* starts Gonzo journalism afterwards, implying that Gonzo does not fit those characteristics you listed. I assumed this because you wrote the birth afterwards. My apologies for the confusion.

  10. Dirtywithclass on October 27, 2011 10:35 pm

    Oops,my bad. Still, from the trailers this one didn’t look so bad. Kind of surprised to see such a low rating for it

  11. Duke on October 27, 2011 11:02 pm

    I was surprised as well.

  12. Marc on October 28, 2011 11:17 am

    Did not find this very interesting either, “jarringly dull” is a good way to put it though:P

    There’s just no cohesion between any scene and plays like 4 different movies (all starring Johnny Depp) you’d see flipping back and forth on cable. Might help to know more than just the basics of Thompson (which I admittedly don’t) but this just fell flat leaving me going, “yeah, so what?”

  13. Duke on October 28, 2011 11:34 am


  14. NeverTooEarlyMP on October 28, 2011 3:18 pm

    I was initially excited when I heard about this one, but have been losing interest over time, and now that the reviews are out that seems to seal the deal! I’m not really sure what’s happening with Depp’s career these days. It seems like Tim Burton is the only one who is able to pull great performances out of him

  15. Duke on October 28, 2011 4:02 pm

    I’ve never considered Depp a great actor, truthfully. What films would you recommend I see, in order to perhaps persuade that opinion?

  16. NeverTooEarlyMP on October 29, 2011 4:11 am

    You may be right about that. My favorite performances of his are in Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd. Maybe it’s just that Burton’s art direction distracts from the acting quality? Hahaha.

  17. Duke on October 29, 2011 12:22 pm

    That could certainly be it. His artistry is quite unique.

  18. Adam from 3guys1movie.com on October 30, 2011 9:56 am

    Saw this yesterday, what a let down. How do you manage to make dropping acid look so dull?

  19. Duke on October 31, 2011 1:50 pm

    By filming with no light of entertainment.

  20. Alex on November 8, 2011 12:24 pm

    I agree with most everything you said, but what about Ribisi? I thought he made the movie, barely, watchable. He do anything for you?

  21. Duke on November 8, 2011 3:29 pm

    He was annoyingly entertaining I suppose.

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