“ Genre: Comedy / To Be Announced / Director: Bruce Robinson / Actors: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins ... / DVD released 2012-03-05 at Entertainment in Video / Features of the DVD: PAL „
At last I've been and seen the long awaited Depp film - a bit slow on the uptake on this one but I have been poorly. I hadn't read any professional reviews of this film and only seen a couple of trailers so didn't know really what to expect. As you all know I am Depp's biggest fan and have been since he was a nipper and I am also a big fan of Hunter S Thompson's work although I haven't read the semi-autobiographical book that the film is based on.
Okay, here we go - so what part of the world are we in? Puerto Rico; a Caribbean paradise - or is it? Who is involved? Paul Kemp, a writer who thinks he is a journalist and has written two novels although they were never published and probably never read. Is he an alcoholic? Maybe. Let's just say that he's a hard drinking sort of guy and wakes up with a heavy hangover most days. What's he doing in Puerto Rico? He's got an interview with the local rag due to the very impressive CV he sent to the editor which actually turns out to be a load of b****** but that's by the way because he gets the job. What is his mission here in Puerto Rico? To throw some light on US businesses who are exploiting the region by stealing the land to build huge hotels and leaving the locals destitute. Does he make any buddies? Yes, a wacky sort of guy called, Sala, a good photographer with a bit of street cred and a good sense of humour. Is there a girl involved? Sort of - the film is classed as a romantic comedy but more about that later. Is Kemp tempted by anything else other than alcohol, pretty girls and a desperate need to find his writing skills? What about the group of fat cats leading him into temptation?
So what did this Depp fan think? I didn't leave the cinema thinking, 'Wow!' That's a great film but I did enjoy it for lots of reasons which I will go into in a minute. I did think about the film most of the night afterwards and during the week so it had some effect on me, definitely.
Let's start with the location - Puerto Rico. Most of the filming took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico and from the beginning of the film I fell in love with the place. It wasn't just the long, golden beaches, palm trees and warm ocean that captivated me it was the way the cameraman had managed to show the contrast between how normal Joes' live on the streets and in the tenement blocks which looks like total chaos to the serenity of the beaches and the wealth and glamour of the marinas and all the trappings that goes with money.
Filming in general
I can't fault the camera work of Dariusz Wolski - good old Polish name there and guess what - he's from Warsaw and one year older than me. You may have seen his work on the Pirate films and also in Burton's, Alice in Wonderland plus he's been involved with the pop world for quite a while and produced a large number of pop videos for stars such as David Bowie, Elton John and Sting. My verdict - he's good, very, very good. Particularly in this film I loved the clarity of light during the beach scenes and then the way he created the drabness, scruffiness of the newspaper offices and the turmoil of everyday life.
There is one scene - well, two, I think where cocks are fighting. Not something I am mad about but I actually thought he filmed this scene in a very creative way as it was so artistic - nothing horrible was shown. It was just the way he captured the noise and the bizarre ways of people gambling then in a small arena we saw two birds attacking each other in slow motion as if they were performing a ritual dance. This area was filmed in Vega Baja and I have never been there but from his scenes I could feel the menacing undertones of the place.
Hunter S Thompson wrote the novel who is a wizard of words and when Depp narrates Thompson's work he does it in such a classy way - with that smooth drawl. There are many moments of narration in this film and it is wonderful to listen to as Depp draws you into the story, the 60s and the way of life as it was for Thompson/Kemp back then.
Bruce Robinson wrote the screen play and I think it is very good. It's witty, dark at times and really puts you in situations where you feel they are real. I think the way he relates the shambles of the newspaper office and the way the ex-pats behave is very realistic. His portrayal of the fat cats too is very good and I despised all of them and have come across people like this when I first moved to Portugal 30 years ago - always ready to exploit a newbie and take away land and property from the locals who were naive and gullible. I have no problem with the writing - it is very good.
Let's leave Johnny until a bit later - we'll take a look at the other members of the cast.
Sala (Michael Rispoli), a New Yorker. You may have seen him in Pelham 123 and Kick Ass. I loved him in the Rum Diary - great lived in face, funny and an accent that you can only just understand. I personally think he was the lead actor in this film in so much as Johnny Depp stepped back and became a supporting actor which isn't unusual as he always did this in his earlier films. The chemistry between the pair of them was brilliant and they were a joy to watch when they were up to their drunken antics. Rispoli is great at acting drunk and this isn't the easiest thing in the world to portray and not many actors can do it so well. The expressions on his face in the scene where they administer some very strange alcohol into their eyes, is brilliant. I wanted to laugh out loud but at the same time it was a bit scary. Yeah, he is great in this film and his role as the side kick and drunken photographer is first class.
Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) someone I am not too familiar with although I know his face. I think he was in one of the Batman films but I really don't know his work well. He was very impressive as the smoothie businessman who pretends to take Kemp under his wing and look out for him by offering him some work writing a brochure for the new hotel development he is about to build. He is good because I really disliked him and have met many blokes like him around the marinas of Portugal and France. Yuk! He was so creepy and nice in this film - made me feel sick.
Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) - does Burn after Reading, Step Brothers, Let Me In - ring any bells? Here he plays the editor of the local rag and does it with such cantankerous style. He is hilarious not only to look at with his wig not exactly placed perfectly on the top of his head but his sharp witty one liners are ace. One of my favourite lines is early on in the film at the meeting where Kemp appears for the interview wearing dark shades and feeling pretty rough.
Lotterman says, 'Do you find the room too bright?' Kemp says, ' I have an eye problem.' Lotterman replies, 'You mean you have a f***** hangover..
Another one is when Lotterman says, 'How does anyone drink 161 miniatures?' Kemp replies, 'Are they not complimentary?'
The rapport between editor and journalist was really entertaining.
Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) - this is someone I don't know at all but from what I saw of him in The Rum Diary I hope I will see more of his acting abilities as he is brilliant.
He plays the Swedish nutter and hard core alcoholic and does it very well. Once a great journalist but blew his brains out drinking some pretty lethal home-made cocktails. You know the ones that you can blow up cars with. I am serious - there are scenes where he takes a mouthful of his own made alcohol and then blows out on to a lighter and then there is a ball of flame and an explosion. Sounds mental but it's true. If you haven't guessed by now he's the crackpot who makes the alcohol that Kemp and Sala poured into their eyes. He is also a fan of Hitler - likes to dress up as him and play out his speeches on record. Freaky.
Chenault (Amber Heard) - and here we have our leading lady but unfortunately she didn't do a good job. If there is a weak spot in this film it is the introduction of this girl. She is pretty enough in her long, legged Texan way but doesn't have a lot of charisma and can't really act. As for the chemistry between her and Depp, there wasn't really any. I wouldn't say that they seemed madly in love with each other - definitely not enough for him to go sailing off to New York in the moonlight to find her.
The man himself - Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp)
Looks gorgeous as always - if ever a man can wear anything, it's Depp. Put on a couple of pounds for this role but not as chubby as he was in the Tourist. He is still looking good. What about his acting? He didn't really do any, if I'm honest. As I mentioned earlier he took a back seat role in this and went back to being a supporting actor like he used to do in his early films. That doesn't mean to say that he isn't any good in it - he is. The acting is all done with his eyes - like a silent actor - think of Buster Keaton. Depp is very funny - not so much in the things that he does but his mannerisms. Of course, he does speak but not much and the vocals that come forth are slow as if he is in a drunken stupor most of the time throughout the film although he doesn't look drunk but if you have ever been on a drinking bender just over a few days I think you behave like this. It's like your brain is numb and your body loses all feeling - you just walk round in a trance - that's how he portrays this role except when he gets motivated about political issues of the time and his writing and the lack of inspiration. It's not the best role I've seen him in but he's good. If I have any criticism - I think I would have liked to seen a bit more anger and frustration - for some reason he holds back on these emotions.
Okay, summing up time.
The Rum Diary is a very good film - the scenery, characters and the writings of Hunter Thompson which are narrated by Depp all draw you in. There are some great lines and I found myself laughing a lot and I wasn't the only one. Most people in the cinema laughed at the witty lines. All actors are very good except the girl and I think she was just there to sell the film - I would have preferred it to be just a blokey sort of film because for most of the time it was - guys being journalists, having a few drunken moments and doing daft, manic things - some I can relate to. I felt that she didn't add anything extra to the film so half a point knocked off for this
Things I can relate to - the way the ex-pat community was split into two groups - the nutcases who are intelligent and creative but drink far too much and eventually turn native and are unable to move away or you get the rich and wealthy who swan around as if they own the country they are guests in and despise the locals for living and breathing. I definitely was aware of these two groups in Portugal in the early days and I wasn't in the rich and wealthy one - more in the crazy group for a few years but hey, it was a lot of fun and I made a lot of crazy friends and I think this is something the film shows - the madness of being an ex-pat and the strange friendships that are formed.
I also liked all the beautiful cars and clothes of the 60s. The soundtrack was excellent too. According to IMBD the original music was written by Christopher Young but I don't know of his work although I enjoyed the sounds of this film and how he incorporated calypso, reggae and bomba. Something I was unsure about is the scene in the Puerto Rican nightclub which was a local one - there was a live blues guitarist playing and he was fantastic but I don't think this would have happened as blues wasn't popular in Puerto Rico in the 60s. As Johnny is one of the producers of the film and a musician perhaps he added this clip because he liked the guitarist - who knows. I didn't think this was authentic so I'm knocking half a point off.
Yes, I enjoyed it, it's good and I will buy the DVD when it comes out because I think it's one of those films you can watch over again. It's not his best film but it's a very nice tribute to his dear, friend Hunter S Thompson and it's good to see him on screen again. Two points - as this is semi-autobiographical, it shows Thompson as quite a deep, sensitive person not just a raging, drug taking, heavy drinking looney. Why the film was called The Rum Diary I'm not really sure as there aren't any references to rum although I realise it was the name of Thompson's book.
There is a fair bit of swearing in the film but it is appropriate and the cockerel fight scenes might not be for everyone - also the scene where Kemp and Sala are tripping is a bit heavy - very realistic though and not at all silly like the scenes in Gilliam's, Fear and Loathing.
It's good - give it a whirl. Well worth visiting the cinema as the cinematography is super.