Movie preview: The Rum Diary


For those unfamiliar with his personal history, the novels of Hunter S. Thompson may seem like debauched wish-fulfilment and legacies of an overly active imagination. His seminal Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas contains a barely conceivable quantity of drug-taking and alcoholism, all set across the burning desert heat of the city known as America’s Playground. The Rum Diary, his ‘lost novel’ which was written in the 1960s but not published until 1998, sets its store in similar tales of incredible self-abuse, stifling heat and the lengths to which a man can push himself in extraordinary, hallucinogenic surroundings.

All those who do know Thompson’s backstory will know that these novels are scarily based on the author’s own exploits. How much is true and how much created we will never know – the reclusive writer shot himself in 2005 – but we know that at least parts of his gleefully amoral novels were based on personal experience.

All of which makes filming them slightly tricky. Terry Gilliam’s masterful adaptation of Fear and Loathing is one of the best films of the ’90s: placing Johnny Depp in the Thompson role, it combined slapstick comedy with truly unsettling drug-fuelled freakouts to magnetic effect. Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of The Rum Diary looks to have learned several lessons from Gilliam’s picture.

Depp again stars as the Thompson cipher – this time, journalist Paul Kemp – who moves to Puerto Rico from the States after becoming dissatisfied with his homeland in the late 1950s. Taking on a job as a reporter for the national paper, he quickly unearths the dark, alcohol-swilling heart of the idyllic isle, hanging out with drunks and partying the nights away. Once he meets the enigmatic businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart, in seemingly a perfect role) and, more importantly, Sanderson’s beautiful fiancée Chenault (Amber Heard) – with whom he becomes increasingly infatuated – things begin to darken, and violence is never far away.

The Rum Diary looks like a welcome return to Thompson’s work for Depp – note how similar his voice in the trailer is to the one he used in Fear and Loathing – after seemingly countless identical roles in films with Tim Burton. Sun-soaked and booze-drenched, it could be one of the most enjoyable films to hit cinemas this autumn. Whatever happens, you’re likely to remember more of it than Paul Kemp will.

The Rum Diary is released in the United States tomorrow, and in the UK on November 4th.

Luke Grundy is a fervent assimilator of media living amid the bright lights of London, England. If he’s not watching films or listening to music, he’s probably asleep, eating or dead. A writer, journalist and musician, he is the creator of movie/music blog Odessa & Tucson and lives for epistemology.

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