Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Rum Diary Nails It

As a rule, I am always wary of film adaptations of books I thoroughly love. I was disappointed in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film - despite it being, in and of itself, a good film - and I fear I will be disappointed by the upcoming On the Road film. In spite of this, I am tremendous fan of Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Leas Vegas; not only because Johnny Depp was astounding as Hunter S. Thompson/Raoul Duke, but because the film captured the insanity of the text, the essence, the spirit.

To this end, I was (perhaps to my own surprise) not disappointed with Bruce Robinson's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary.

Initially, I was incredibly skeptical due to the overtly comedic take that the trailer seemed to imply. The Rum Diary's not an overtly funny book, I thought as I watched it, what have they done? Robinson is also the man responsible for Withnail and I, a British Fear and Loathing-style film that I was not too keen on.

So, from the get go, we're off to a bad start.

Not only was I proved wrong, I was proved so thoroughly wrong; the film was so effective, so emotive, that I was literally left in a speechless daze after I left the cinema.

Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is a struggling novelist and journalist who is trying to make it and takes a freelance job at the San Juan Star, a local newspaper in Puerto Rico. Once there he meets his boss Lotterman, played perfectly by Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, Burn After Reading), and his eccentric co-workers Sala, portrayed by Michael Rispoli (Kick-Ass, Rounders) - whom incidentally was the performance I was by far most impressed with - and the infamous Moberg, classic weird guy Giovanni Ribisi (Avatar, Saving Private Ryan).

He must deal with the local culture of seemingly endless madness and the imposed culture of the ex-patriots who live there, like money-hungry Sanderson, stylishly pulled-off by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking). Wading through this, he meets beautiful blonde Chenault (Amber Heard) and deal with his feelings for her.

"You smell that?" Kemp asks Sala and Moberg. "That's the smell of bastards."

Johnny Depp can do so much with the smallest of movements, and he captures perfectly the essence of a Hunter S. Thompson protagonist - keeping in mind, of course, that this is pre-Fear and Loathing Hunter. Kemp is an understated, frumpy fellow with a drinking problem whom I found thoroughly likeable.

The real joy, however, came in watching Michael Rispoli be constantly sweaty and grimy Sala, the staff photographer. His constant talking at Kemp is a real joy of this film. Ribisi's performance, too, as Moberg- the crime and religious affairs correspondent - echoes deeply classic Hunter S.; madness with a very thick coating of depth.

It was wonderful to see Eckhart portray a real bastard in this film, one of the few times we get to see this handsome all-American be a tight-jawed money-grubber. And no, he was more Wall Street evil, not Two-Face evil.

For her part, Amber Heard held up her role well and she was a perfect choice for the character; a outgoing and spontaneous woman, with more than a hint of sheer danger.

There is practically nothing I didn't like about this film; the dialogue was tight, it was beautifully shot and it had a great mix of humour and serious depth reminiscent of Gilliam's Fear and Loathing. I did find at times that the comedy was sometimes taken a little too far, such as a certain car-and-stairs sequence, but in general I found it was a well-thought-out and well-constructed adaptation of a great book that clearly came from the heart. 8.5/10


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