What would a film based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel be without a bit of controversy and polarization? The Rum Diary took years to get published and, likewise, years to get into the production phase. Although some Thompson fans and general film enthusiasts may disagree, the final product seems to have been worth the wait.
Among being notable for the painstaking development process it went through, The Rum Diary also gained a coup in snagging the longtime latent writer/director Bruce Robinson (whose seminal works include Withnail and I, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, and Jennifer 8).
The style of Robinson, who also adapted the book into a screenplay in addition to directing, is the ideal counterpart to a narrative that is, at times, meandering, drug-addled, and palpably sweaty. Throwing himself into the project, Robinson spent weeks in Puerto Rico with Johnny Depp in order to immerse himself in the setting of the story.
Depp, too, is another piece of the puzzle that was instrumental and necessary to the movie’s production. As an unabashed Thompsonphile (his role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his willingness to use his own funds to produce The Rum Diary being evidence of that fact), Depp’s affection for the character of Paul Kemp is easy to see in his portrayal.
The rest of the cast is equally as tailor-made for the available roles. Amber Heard as Chenault is, of course, perfect (primarily because she is so physically perfect); Giovanni Ribisi as the out of his mind, perpetually drunk Moberg reveals yet again how often underrated his abilities as an actor are; and, finally, Aaron Eckhart as Sanderson delivers a villainous performance to a charmingly pitch-perfect degree.
While The Rum Diary’s most obvious flaw is how sanitary its translation from the book is, its other chief blemish is the occasional feeling that it has been dragging on for far too long. But, at the same time, every plot point is paramount to seeing the eventual path that Paul Kemp/Hunter S. Thompson is led to. And it’s one that proved essential to the shape that journalism took in the 1960s and 1970s.