The Rum Diary (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Rum Diary</strong> (2011)

(In theaters, October 2011) It’s a good thing that I’m a certified fan of Hunter S. Thompson’s work, because otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed The Rum Diary as much.  It’s already a trying experience even for those who have absorbed Thompson’s life and work: Thompson’s bottom-of-the-drawer “first novel” was a triumph of atmosphere over plot, as it followed a young journalist as he made his way throughout 1960s Puerto Rico and lost much of his illusions.  Blending fiction with autobiography, The Rum Diary offered a more melancholic view of Thompson’s early years than you’d expect.  The movie version has a hard time trying to put a plot where the novel doesn’t have one, and the result is a bit of low-key comedy interspaced with more serious plotting about corruption and unbridled development.  Many of the anecdotes are amusing (although it speaks volume about the film’s pacing that the trailer has a far clearer sense of comedy), but the dramatic narrative of The Rum Diary peters off in a “nothing worked out, but we all learned a lot so… to be continued…” fishtail of a conclusion.  The film works best as an affectionate homage to Thompson himself, as it clearly feels like a romanced “birth of an author” narrative: If you don’t know what Thompson would go on to write after his own Puerto Rico transformative experience, then the ending of the film will be more frustrating than anything else.  Fortunately, Johnny Depp is wonderful as a young Thompson (it’s a performance clearly meant to lead into his own work in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), while Amber Heard finally makes an impression in a paper-thin role.  As a drama for people who haven’t read Thompson, it’s a hit-and-miss film with a strong Puerto Rican atmosphere… but frankly, this one is for the fans.  And even they may feel that the two-hour film runs a bit long.

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