The Johnny Depp Archive

The Rum Diary (2011)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Aarpn Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Giovanni Ribisi, Amber Heard

Directed by: Bruce Robinson

Rating: 1 2 3

Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary

Has Johnny Depp struck a deal with the devil? I mean, seriously, only he could play a raddled, balding incarnation of an ageing, drug-addled Hunter S Thompson in one film and then, thirteen years later, rewind the clock to play his alter ego as a young whippersnapper on the cusp of his journalistic career.

Does he pull it off? Almost… but not quite.

The year is 1963, and failed novelist Paul Kemp (Depp) has just arrived in Puerto Rico to take up a post at the Star of San Juan, an ailing, down-on-its-luck newspaper that nobody reads. Puerto Rico itself is a schizophrenic island beset by contradictions, a Latin American nation sullenly struggling against the impositions of a colonial superpower, the gulf between rich invading gringos and poor natives as vast as the proximity between luxury and squalor is minute.

Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) types up some truth about the bastards

Like his new home, Paul too is a somewhat contradictory character: part naïve, idealistic reactionary, part cynical (mostly) high functioning alcoholic (unlike some of his colleagues, whose rum-soaked brains barely appear to function at all). He mouths off about 'bastards' and 'truth' yet is easily seduced into corporate crookdom by the promise of a free car and an apartment with a view. As this turns sour, he's back on his high horse, determined to expose the Yankee fat cats for what they really are, but his reckless, Judy Garland-esque 'let's put on a show' attitude (or 'let's put out a paper' in this case) doesn't last long, and he soon slides from the saddle as he realises his cause is lost.

Oh, and he's a man in his twenties played by an actor who, beautiful and youthful as he is, is nonetheless pushing fifty and has the eye bags to prove it… (although to be fair, Johnny was a lot younger when he first conceived the project).

Rambling and uneven, the film too swithers between political well-meaningness and picaresque romp. Fortunately for us, the scales tip slightly towards the latter, as this is where cast and director (Withnail and I's Bruce Robinson, no less) are in their element, and the comedy scenes are worth the price of a ticket alone: tongue in cheek, assured in their ridiculousness and very, very funny.

Like the diary it purports to be, the film is a hotch-potch of random ideas, amusing set pieces and colourful characters, but lacks the narrative drive to hold it together. Like Johnny's only foray into directing so far, The Brave, its disparate elements, while all worthwhile, never quite gel into a satisfying, coherent whole. Plus, for all his dedication to the project, Johnny never really seems to commit to his role – the word 'coasting' is perhaps harsh… but fair.

Nevertheless, the styling is gorgeous, the sets either jaw-droppingly glamorous or delightfully seedy and if nothing else, this film really makes you wish you were there.

My verdict? It's worth making a date for The Rum Diary, but don't clear your calendar…

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