Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary – the opening credits flash, the plot advances, the scene fades to black, and then the closing credit roll.  I am guessing that for most people, the movie will soon after be completely forgotten.  It is unfortunate, because director Bruce Robinson puts forth a movie that is very stylized in its depiction of 1960’s San Juan with Johnny Depp running point man for the narrative as a burned out journalist who takes a dead end job in San Juan as a means to escape life in 1960’s America.

The problem with the film I suspect is the source material.  Based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, you get the impression while watching the film that you are watching a movie based on Thompson’s own experiences in P.R., especially given, (Depp) Kemp’s affinity for alcohol, his left-ward leaning tendencies, and the way he becomes an active participate to the very story he is trying to report on.  It is no surprise then that Thompson was unsuccessful in getting the novel published until some thirty years after it was written.

The film is set in the 1960’s in San Juan – a stone’s throw from Cuba and Miami.  This infuses an electric vibe into the proceedings since in a historic sense, it was an interesting time in the Northeastern Caribbean given the  delicate political balance and the abundance of change in the air.  However, that is also a contributing factor as to why the film feels like such a disappointment.  As the lead, Depp’s character is not engaging so when he takes his dramatic turn and decides to become an activate participant against the swindle that is afoot, it is hard to really feel invested.  His performance is as empty as the rum bottles his character leaves in his wake.  As for the rest of the cast:

Aaron Eckhart is sufficiently nefarious, but there is a notable absence of any real consequence to crossing him, which effectively neuters him as the big-bad of the film.  Amber Heard is stunning as Chenault, but lacks screen time to truly develop into a love interest for our protagonist.   Thus it feels flimsy when she serves as part of the catalyst for Depp’s social awakening.  Michael Rispoli is adequate as an ex-pat; likewise for Richard Jenkins whose Lotterman is the epitome of a manic boss. 

Ultimately, I can neither recommend this film nor dissuade people from seeing it.  There is no better way for me to articulate it then to say it is just a movie.  You will watch it, be neither terribly entertained nor terribly annoyed, and then you will probably not think about it again until the next time you catch it on cable television.  If you are looking for your Hunter S. Thompson / Johnny Depp fix, I would suggest Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas instead. 

Standout Performance: Giovanni Ribisi – but not in a good way.  I cannot for the life of me figure out the purpose of his role or what he was trying to achieve in his approach to portraying it.


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