The Rum Diary is under the influence of a serious acid trip
“The Rum Diary,” starring Johnny Depp and Aaron Eckhart, is a colorful film set in Puerto Rico during the Eisenhower administration. Amidst all of the mambo and the shiny classic Chevys, “The Rum Diary” tries to tell a story about Yanqui greed and the failure of mainstream media to give a damn about ethical journalism.
The film is based on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name and is dedicated to his memory—hence why many of the characters, totally doped up and drunk to the point of insanity, seem to be pulled right out of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” The story follows Paul Kemp (Depp), a writer with dashing good looks who smokes menthols all day, is totally unaware of the social tensions plaguing the Puerto Ricans. The film attempts to show the complexity of the situation—a tiny island bogged down in poverty while foreign enterprises blossom at every corner.
The Puerto Ricans don’t seem to have a say in their situation. Instead, greedy businessmen privatize beaches and milk the island dry of all its profitable recourses. Sanderson (Eckhart) embodies the selfish Yanqui presence that we see Puerto Ricans protest against throughout the film. With his blonde hair and authoritarian grin, he is the guy you don’t mess with and the guy who always gets his way. Unfortunately, Kemp makes the mistake of falling in love with his wild-at-heart fiancée (Amber Heard), and the drama proceeds.
The film is honest to its title. Rarely is there a scene that doesn’t involve rum. Kemp and his friend Bob (Michael Rispoli) are constantly hung over, eyes bloodshot, sweating and walking around with a drunken swag. Then there’s Moberg (Giovanni Ribsi), their co-worker, who is under the influence of some substance in every scene. However, Moberg doesn’t add anything to the film, and for a drunk, he’s not even amusing. He’s a strange Nazi sympathizer, something that is never explained and not entertaining at all—it just makes the film feel like it’s lacking in consistency.
Depp does a great job portraying the lost writer type as someone searching for meaning in life while trying to find balance between alcoholism and the desire to be a significant investigative journalist. Yet, the film is all over the place. It can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a serious social critique or a serious acid trip. In the process, “The Rum Diary” ignores the very significant subject that keeps coming up throughout the film: being able to find your voice and not be afraid to speak out with it.