Of Rum and Righteous Journalism

After playing the lead in Terry Gilliam’s cult adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in 1998, Johnny Depp returns to the revolutionary writer’s world in ‘The Rum Diary’.

Based on the writer’s alcohol-soaked experiences as a young reporter in Puerto Rico, the film stars Depp as the Thompson-like Paul Kemp, an American who moves to sunny San Juan after becoming jaded with the noise of New York and the rigid principles of Eisenhower-era America.

He reaches the island, hoping to make a fresh start at the local newspaper, the San Juan Star, but what he soon realises is that his idyllic paradise has a seedy underbelly, where American business interests run rampant, leaving the locals bitter and resentful. The lowest social position on the island is reserved for the press, which is looked at with derision.

Kemp soon adapts to the rum-fuelled culture of the island, meeting colourful characters such as his irritable editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), world-weary photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and eccentric, drug-happy Moburg.

While the job doesn’t exactly go as he wanted it to, the story takes a turn when Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) walks into his life. A businessman of questionable moral character, Sanderson wants Kemp to write flattering articles about a hotel development he’s planning, and the payment for the latter’s services includes the businessman’s flirtatious fiancée, Chenault (Amber Heard).

Kemp suddenly finds himself not only embroiled in a love triangle (that unfolds against frame after frame of picturesque backdrops), but also faced with a moral dilemma. There are two paths he can take. One will lead him to the realm of journalistic integrity; he can refuse Sanderson’s offer and using his pen to fight the society that has drawn him in. The other will suck him even further into the trap the beguiling island has laid for him, so he becomes another one its lost souls.

The film is written and directed by Bruce Robinson, who has written most of the biting dialogue from scrap. Interestingly, Robinson seems to have taken a leaf out of character actor Depp’s book while penning the script. The former alcoholic said in an interview to The Independent, “’I started drinking again because of The Rum Diary,” when faced with writer’s block. It’s perhaps because of his state of mind while writing the screenplay that the movie is rife with heavy moods and alternating tones of frivolity and melancholia.

Depp himself has been an integral part of the making of the movie, wanting the book to translate to the big screen after striking up a close friendship with Thompson himself. According to Extra, he recently admitted to Larry King that he had stumbled across the book in Thompson’s basement in the course of his research for ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in the late 90s.

“One thing led to another and he wanted to publish it, but then he brought up the idea of producing it and said ‘We must produce this together’ so that was the plan,” Depp said, adding that the movie provided closure for him, after Thompson’ s suicide in 2005.

The Rum Diary hits theatres worldwide on October 28.

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