The Rum Diary boasts some great performances, wonderful locations and fabulous costuming. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from lacklustre direction, making it really rather dull.
American writer Paul Kemp takes a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960. His colleagues are jaded, with some more interested in consuming rum above anything else. Paul begins to see the gulf between the local way of life and the wealthy foreigners who frequent the paradise island…
Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, The Rum Diary attempts to capture the mood of a certain era and a certain group of individuals. It is partially successful; the film generates an exoticness that will be unfamiliar to many. However, the film lacks a sense of authenticity. The scenes in the film that are meant to be absurd or somewhat wild never really pull the audience in. Perhaps the problem is that The Rum Diary loses its viewers before it gets to this point.
Bruce Robinson’s direction is stilted. The more active sequences do not grab the attention in the way they are supposed to. There is a distinct lack of energy to the whole film. In one sense, the film takes a laid-back style, with the plot slowly being revealed. Nevertheless, without strong direction or purpose, the film quickly becomes dull, and never really recovers.
The narrative can be reduced to a fairly simple good guys versus bad guys structure, with the audience identifying with Kemp’s point of view as the newcomer. Characters are depicted in polemical terms, with the almost caricature wealthy investors and the sidelined locals who get no viewpoint of their own. There is nothing particularly illuminating about the narrative, nor anything that entertaining.
Johnny Depp is good for the most part as Paul Kemp. In a few of the scenes, his mannerisms are over the top, which appear at odds with the character. Aaron Eckhart is solid as Sanderson, while Giovanni Ribisi is excellent as the eccentric Moberg. Amber Heard is appropriately cast as Chenault, a role requiring little else but looking pretty.
Colleen Atwood’s costuming is great, particularly Chenault’s wardrobe. Production values in The Rum Diary are good, though not much about the film stands out, visually-speaking. The film’s very fatal flaw is that it is boring; viewers are unlikely to recommend The Rum Diary to others.