Monday, March 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Rum Diary (2011) **½

R, 120 min.
Director: Bruce Robinson
Writers: Bruce Robinson, Hunter S. Thompson (novel)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michael Rispoli, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi

I’ve only read a couple of Hunter S. Thompson’s books. The ones that I’ve read fully embody the manic nature in which Thompson was famous for living his life. His work is fueled by his anti-authority, drug-induced need to dig at the underbelly of establishment. His words come off the page like the workings of a frantic rodent set out to expose the monsters in us all. And he’s funny, too.

“The Rum Diary” is taken from the second novel he ever wrote, which remained unpublished until late in his career as the original Gonzo journalist. I haven’t read the book, but the movie reflects the fact that this was early work for Thompson. It has all the earmarks of his work, but lacks a strong voice. His conviction wasn’t yet fully formed. This is reflected in the film’s plotting and the absence of that manic delivery.

Surely, this will be something that should be seen by any fan of Thompson, but this isn’t full Thompson emersion. There are romantic notions here that are either a product of the production or elements that Thompson had abandoned by the time he reached his full stride as a writer. There is a lack of focus, not that focus has ever been something Thompson has often been accused of possessing, but his teeth aren’t fully sharpened here.

The story follows a young journalist who is hired onto a dying San Juan newspaper. He gets mixed up in a real estate scheme and the woman who comes between the land developer and himself. These are fairly conventional plot points for Thompson, and they hardly make up the entirety of his adventure. There are many drug and alcohol elements that sidetrack the hero portrayed by Johnny Depp. These are typical Thompson distractions. Like often happened in Thompson’s own life, they sidetrack the hero from following through with his exposure of the illegal real estate plan.

All the elements are there for a great Thompson drug-crazed political exposure yarn. I’ve read that the book comes through, despite Thompson’s young age when writing it. The movie, however, lacks Thompson’s passionate execution. It’s a little too laid back. Perhaps a little mescaline would’ve helped.

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