Notes on Film: The Rum Diary

Over the weekend, I went on a movie marathon watching You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Fantastic Mr.Fox, Rango, and The Rum Diary. It was The Rum Diary to which I kept going back again and again in my mind as if it didn’t reveal all its secrets.

The plot is not just simple but is hardly there as well. However, the storytelling was par excellence. Based on the book of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp plays the character of a journalist, Paul Kemp,  who’s the only one who applied and was accepted to The San Juan Star, a sinking Yankee newspaper in the middle of a troubled 1960 Puerto Rico.  Kemp, who has an alchohol addiction problem and is zoned out most of the time, is eminently unsuited to be an objective reporter* or any reporter for that matter. No surprise then he is allocated the horoscope and bowling alley beat. He connects with a fellow reporter Sala (Michael Rispoli) who shows him around town. Kemp’s I-don’t-care attitude attracts a host of characters including millionaire Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), his fiance Chenault (Amber Heard), a few Puerto Rican goons, and the unkempt journalist and narcotic specialist Moberg (Giovani Ribisi). In this journey through the film not just Puerto Rico but his mind, Kemp is searching for his own voice, a daring adventure and love, not necessarily in that order. Things seem to happen to him in a way that reminded me of Murakami’s protagonists. However, there is one major difference. Unlike Murakami’s protagonists, Kemp takes a stand at the end of the movie. It’s in taking this stand against the exploitation of the native Puerto Rican people and their land that he redeems himself. In the end, he also finds his literary voice and the woman he goes on to marry.

Shot on 16 mm film, the film is a visual treat. The tones are pure 1960s and frames very stylish. In its visual treatment, it reminds me of Andy Garcia’s 2005 film, The Lost City.


*Ergo, gonzo journalism.

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