Redbox DOs and DON’Ts: The Rum Diary

Kelsey Crouse


Johnny Depp has never come to the screen and left you disappointed, which is not to say that the film itself was not disappointing. However, Depp brings a certain intensity and dedication to every character that leaves you in limbo right into your final decision on the film.  Depp’s cinematic career is populated by odd, bizarre, interestingly entertaining characters in situations that either do not make sense or have a deep seeded meaning that is not clear to the naked eye.

The Rum Diary fits comfortably into Depp’s rather odd résumé. Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel about a ‘fictional’ character named Paul Kemp (Depp). Kemp leaves his chaotic lifestyle of 1960s New York and heads to Puerto Rico to freelance for a local English-language newspaper. The paper’s overbearing yet desperate editor-in-chief Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), who is fighting to keep his paper in circulation, gives Kemp a permanent column as well as the task of finding stories to entice readership — but nothing that would put unwanted pressure on the paper’s bankers.

Kemp dives into his horoscope column, his new environment and, of course, miniature bottles of rum. To ease the adjustment to Puerto Rico and to help drink the rum, the paper’s photographer and part time cock fighter Sala (Michael Rispoli) brings out a subtle humorous aspect to the story and the characters.

Soon Kemp is sought out by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a smooth talking PR rep that has made his fortune with shady deals, much like the one he has proposed to build a resort on a nearby island. Sanderson coaxes Kemp to write a series of columns in favor of the new development, tricking the locals into thinking the development is something they wanted all along.

Kemp fights with the morality of his situation; all the while he pines for Sanderson’s spirited, yet elegantly beautiful fiancé, Chenault (Amber Heard). Kemp struggles to acclimate to his new surroundings and his strict guidelines on what not to write about in order to keep the money holders happy, keep his hands off his ‘business partner’s’ fiancé,  find his inner voice and learn how to use it.

The Rum Diary is a calm, relatively sober version of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel-to-film classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), also starring Depp. Unlike in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Depp’s character finds his purpose  in bringing down the corrupt.

This movie gave new light to purpose and passion, although it is a little offbeat, to say the least. Kemp is a liberal in a time when the sentiment did not exist. He has an epiphany of how the world works and the connection between how things are and how they should be. The Rum Diary has a deep meaning, is powerfully inspirational, and a subtle but hilarious comedy, all wrapped up in an unusual film. Definitely a Red Box Do.