The Rum Diary (2011) Movie Review

The Rum Diary

Title: The Rum Diary

Year: 2011

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Play time: 1h 59min

Director: Bruce Robinson

Starring: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart

I’ll sit through half-assed dramatizations of Hunter S. Thompson’s drunken misadventures if they’re filtered through Terry Gilliam’s boundless imagination and weird sense of humor, though even then I won’t be happy about it. Take away Gilliam and count me the hell out. In The Rum Diary, adapted and directed by Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I), Johnny Depp reprises his role as Thompson’s alter ego, arriving in 1970 San Juan to write for its fledgling newspaper while struggling to find his voice as a novelist. He befriends the paper’s cheerfully profane photographer (Michael Rispoli), and gets involved in the schemes of a venal real estate magnate (Aaron Eckhart) and his beautiful girlfriend (Amber Heard). The movie is a string of vignettes, some mildly amusing (a frantic escape from some hostile locals in a miserable VW bug), others straight-up interminable (an acid trip that refuses to fucking end). This may simply be a matter of sensibility, but I just don’t find this sort of self-absorbed counterculture non-narrative interesting. My kingdom for some drama.

The Cynical Film Edge in The Rum Diary

I got excited when it briefly looked like the movie would have a cynical edge: Depp resents his newspaper’s pandering to the vacationers and retirees who come to San Juan for the “bowling alleys and casinos,” but quickly attaches himself to the teat of their hotel-building enablers. The American dream, the film seems to suggest, has an underbelly that’s not so much seedy as soul-suckingly banal; everyone, including the alcoholic would-be novelist, just wants to be part of the “winning team.”

The Evils of Capitalism

The Rum Diary has an unbecoming tendency to suddenly get self-righteous, and, in the final scenes, downright maudlin: Thompson sees the evils of capitalism and dedicates the rest of his career to fighting “bastards” everywhere. He maybe should have started with Giovanni Ribisi, who turns in the year’s most grating and ridiculous performance as a squeaky-voiced, strung-out caricature. Though at least it broke the monotony of this two-hour slog through an alcoholic wasteland.

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