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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: The Rum Diary (15) ★★★★
American journalist Paul Kemp takes on a freelance job in Puerto Rico for a local newspaper during the 1950s and struggles to find a balance between island culture and the expatriates who live there.

For those that are expecting Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas II and won’t accept anything less, then turn away now.
The Rum Diary is not this film. It is however a solidly made, well-crafted adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, and a film that deserves to be judged independently from Terry Gilliam’s trippy classic.

What we have here is a film that is its own. The style is different. The characters are different. The feel is different and, more importantly, Johnny Depp is different. This is key as we’ll learn a little later in the review.

The story is based ‘loosely’ on Thomson’s early life as a journalist based in Cuba using the alias Paul Kemp as the films central protagonist. We see him as a ‘not-quite’ alcoholic escaping the impending Nixon led American revolt and heading to Porto Rico to work for a small newspaper.

Kemp is very much a different character to Fear And Loathing’s Raoul Duke. Sure it’s without a doubt Thompson, key scenes touching on the extremities and madness that would later develop and explode in his life, but at this point Kemp is a very much level headed, straight laced ‘good guy’ who even dares at one point to ‘never drink again’. It’s this switch in the central character that will alienate many of the Fear And Loathing fan base.

As the story unfolds we find Kemp getting involved in an illegal property ring, headed up by Aaron Eckhart’s bullish Sanderson, strike up a friendship with hard drinker, and occasional drug user, Sal and ultimately fall for Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault.

Everyone plays their part well, but this is Depp’s moment. Moving away from the mainstream, Depp plays Kemp’s part to perfection, pitching the character exactly how the book portrays him and more importantly distancing himself from Raoul Duke. Forget the awful Pirates films and equally abysmal The Tourist, this is Depp crafting one of his best performances for some time and reminding everyone what a good actor he really is.

With sterling performances we also have a director in Bruce Robinson who shows that several years out of the business means nothing if you have raw talent. The film plays perfectly, never veers off track and with a solid screenplay (once again Robinson’s work) the viewer is never left waiting for something to happen. It’s such a fluid piece of work you wonder why Robinson seems so willing to slip into semi-retirement when he’s this good.

As long as you accept that this is a film in its own right, you’ll enjoy it. An expertly crafted adaptation with an exceptional lead performance means that it’s an outright success.


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