Thompson novel brought to screen

Based on the debut novel by Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary sees Johnny Depp once again take on the work of his idol.

Saturday, 17th December 2011, 2:30 pm

The story goes that Depp discovered the unpublished novel among Thompson’s papers and asked Bruce Robinson, director of Withnail and I, to adapt it.

The result is an enjoyable movie with lots of heart - and a good few laughs, which is clearly a labour of love for it’s lead actor.

Depp plays Paul Kemp, a 30-year-old journalist and struggling novelist who leaves New York behind for the island of Puerto Rico and a job on the San Juan Star.

Set in 1960 the film opens with Kemp - who describes his drinking as ‘at the top end of sociable’ - dazed and confused in a plush hotel room.

He has little recollection of the night before, aside from the evidence of a mini-bar torn off the wall and a collection of empty miniature rum bottles.

After pulling himself together and sporting some sunglasses to try and hide the activities of the night before, he heads to his interview at the San Juan Star.

It is then he discovers his job is to pander to the whims of the American vacationers on the island, with endless reports on bowling matches and fake horoscopes.

Unfulfilled by this line of work, he begins to delve a little deeper into the unreported side of island life.

With new pals, photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and the deranged Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), a former reporter whose brain has been ravaged by drinking Kemp begins his rum-fuelled discoveries.

It is with Sala that Kemp discovers a very different side of the island, with children living in poverty scrabbling for pennies and illegal cockfighting on dusty street corners.

On his hunt for a decent story he meets corrupt property tycoon Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his stunning girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard).

He is instantly obsessed by Chenault, who seems equally drawn to him, and a will they, wont they plot line ensues.

When Kemp is recruited by Sanderson to write favourably about his latest unsavoury scheme, he is faced with a difficult choice.

He finds himself torn between the wealthy businessman who is building hotels along every inch of Puerto Rican sand and the local residents who can barely see the ocean any more.

Does he do the corrupt businessmen’s bidding for serious financial gain or hold true to his beliefs and try to bring him down?

I was unsure of what to expect from an adaptation of a book that was never meant to see the light of day, let alone be transformed for the big screen.

And maybe if it had been driven by anyone else, it may not have worked. But Depp’s obvious affection for the work and for Thompson really shines through.

The film has a little bit of everything. The romance between Kemp and Chenault builds slowly throughout, and there is real chemistry between the pair.

The motley crew of Kemp, Sala and Moberg makes for some great comedy moments and there is a real warmth in the friendship between them.

But at it’s core is the great performance of Depp as the extremely likeable lead character.

You can’t help but be on his side and root for him from start to finish. You want him to get the rum, get the girl and bring down the corrupt businessmen. But does he?

Having developed a soft spot for the exploits of Mr Kemp, I now must go and read the book, which hopefully will be just as entertaining.

Claire O’Neill