Rum Diary is the semi-autobiographical account of Hunter S Thompson’s time as a journalist on ‘The San Juan Star’, an ailing newspaper in 1960’s Puerto Rico. It pitches Thompson into a world of money, greed and dubious morality, all ramped up and skewed by the island’s American inhabitants’ excessive alcoholism and occasional drug taking.
I found it to be entertaining and funny, if a bit slight to be described as an unqualified success. For one thing it lacks sufficient characterisation. Depp is perfectly placed to play his hero, having lived in Thompson’s basement for a number of years. But while his turn as the lead is deadpan and convincing, the supporting cast come across as rather one dimensional accomplices.
Despite this it succeeds in recreating the mood of Thompson’s novel – of 1960s Puerto Rico, an era long gone when real estate magnates tried to colonise this, well, colony of the United States, and America feared the communist menace of Moscow. Also, it is pretty funny. Bruce Robinson, coaxed out of retirement by Depp, brings some Withnail and I moments to the tale, while there are both frequent funny one-liners and hilarious sequences of slapstick humour that made me laugh more than I expected.
Rum Diary has been described in some quarters as a Depp ‘vanity project’, which I find a bit harsh. Depp was a close friend and confident of the late, great Gonzo journalist, and Rum Diary is a labour of love in honour of his departed friend, not one of vanity. Having read negative reviews, I wasn’t expected much – Peter Bradshaw, who I have only ever disagreed once with (Tree of Life – no way does that movie deserve five stars), gave this two stars – a measly score. Yet I, for one, found it a perfectly entertaining adaptation of the novel, one that captured both the mood and the madness that was Hunter S Thopmson.
I read the Rum Diary seven or eight years ago – I didn’t know that it was actually Depp who persuaded Thompson to publish it in 1998. After seeing this movie, I plan to dig out this gem of a novel – and would encourage others to do so, whether or not you get around to seeing the film.