It is a pleasure to see Johnny Depp in Rum Diary a film of substance. Finally Depp is without his black pirate eye makeup though he wears shades a good part of the film necessitated by hangovers. His piercing peepers reveal his thoughts and Mr. Depp is not a shallow man. Depp is portraying Jack Kemp who is Hunter S.Thompson in this semiautobiographical film about HST's early years when HST finds his writer's voice.
There is a lot going on in this film in terms of what is important in life. Values. Making one happy with few possessions, little money, living in squalor while wearing a smile says a lot for this film and Mr.Depp's choice in starring in it. Depp is paying homage to his pal HST, the freelance gonzo journalist. HST despised the corporate world and literately "took a piss on it". A long well thought out carefully explored piss on corporate greed. "Children are starving for food while there are gold doors on banks," Kemp says. To illustrate this indifference, Volare sung by Dean Martin opens the film as a perfect precursor to the 1960s.
Newspaperman Kemp has escaped the confines of Manhattan to the lush country side of Puerto Rico where he is hired by Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) to write for the failing San Juan Daily in its last days of publication.
"How much do you drink?" Lotterman asks Kemp. "I'm poised to give up," Kemp says with a half smile.
While Kemp has written for the N.Y. Times, Lotterman hires Kemp to do horoscopes or " horrorscopes" as Kemp endearingly refers to them. "This guy has good connections. He is good for some free lance," Lotterman says. Kemp's good- natured character is winning. His joy and levity in portraying what many view as nightmarish experiences with alcohol and drugs is HST's journey, but Kemp's devil may care attitude and defiance of authority is refreshing and make these glimpses at this palpable. At times Capt jack sparrow's dynamic spirit haunts Rum Diary.
After Kemp drinks 161 miniatures of alcohol in one night, Lotterman moves Kemp out of his luxury hotel into a dive where the TV is only seen through his window with a view into someone else's apartment and their TV. An alley is in between. Kemp and his confident and conscience Salas (Michael Rispoli) watch TV with binoculars. They are watching the Kennedy/ Nixon debates. Salas about Nixon says, "He is like someone you just ****** and is still under you." When they are under the influence, Salas says, "Some days are two sizes too small."
Lotterman is angry that Kemp takes photojournalist Salas on an assignment and says, "He's got a mouth like an AP wire." Rispoli as Salas gives a solid, rich performance.
This is the 1960s Eisenhower era, and Kemp is on the cusp of being politically motivated. When Lotterman asks Kemp what party he believes in, Kemp cocks his winning head and says, "The middle." then adds," A liberal is a man with a college education who thinks Negro thoughts."
The writing is fast paced and memorable while some of the images of Puerto Rico are spectacular. There is a shot of a narrow street in the misty rain that recalls the splendor of the muted pastel stucco buildings of the islands.
When Sanderson (Aaron Eckhardt) appears, he looks suave like the ruthless American developer he is. He concocts a scheme for Kemp to publicize a resort that is bogus and will ruin the nature of a virgin island. Sanderson's girlfriend, Chenault is played by the stunning Amber Heard. Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) is Kemp's alter ego and at times overacts his drunken self. Rum Diary is directed by writer/director Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) with a fine eye to preserving HST's spirit.
The plot has moments of confusion, but if you just go with this and plow through the alcoholic worship of drugs and drink which afterall is HST's story, there is also charm to be experienced and a refreshing look at life. The witty meaningful Tompsonesque script written by Robinson from HST's 1961 novel Rum Diary with its crisp dialogue will win you over. At least it did me.