By Gabriel Stoffa
Ames247 Staff Writer
Books to movies rarely live up to the original print version, and “The Rum Diary” does not break this stigma.
Without launching into the details of how the book and movie are different, I will acknowledge that a movie cannot have every last detail a book does and hope to come in, in a remotely timely manner.
With that in mind, there are certain details from books that are necessary for story translation. “The Rum Diary” film suffered from that ever-so-annoying decision somewhere along the line to combine some characters into single beings.
For this situation, not only did it not translate well, but it nearly demolished what is originally a good story.
On top of this awful decision to mash characters together came the decision to create “villains.” Some stories do not require clear-cut bad guys. For some reason, some writers or directors or producers in Hollywood are fixated on the idea that all audiences are so incompetent that they cannot enjoy a film that doesn’t have the hero suffering some trials against a nefarious bad guy that could hang out in the category of James Bond nemesis.
“The Rum Diary” was not going to be a high-grossing box-office movie. It is an arthouse film that would make enough money to warrant its creation and a little extra to save it from flopping.
Ignoring the factors generally outside of the actors’ hands, I cannot complain much.
The backdrops, costumes, music and overall feel of the scenes in the movie are beautiful.
Some of the scenes themselves, the “rape” scene of Chenault for example, are so well done I almost want to forget the flaws of the film; but the following mistakes due to the character combinations take that notion away. Then some scenes felt too much like the director wanted to recreate “Fear and Loathing,” despite the two books being very different stories.
The acting itself is also excellent.
Giovanni Ribisi gave a performance of the character Moberg that was right off the page. Michael Rispoli had a beautifully compatible screen presence with Johnny Depp that reminded me of the great team-up of Benicio Del Toro and Depp in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Richard Jenkins was an excellent Lotterman; again nearly straight off the page. Aaron Eckhart is perfect casting for Sanderson, bringing back some of his smarmy character from “Thank You for Smoking,” and Amber Heard as Chenault was sexy and wild enough to replace the image of the woman I had created in my mind when I first read the book.
Depp’s work as Paul Kemp had scraps of his performance of Hunter S. Thompson from “Fear and Loathing,” and worked for the overall plan of what the film adaption of “The Rum Diary” seemed to be attempting.
And there is what didn’t quite work: the meaning of the whole story.
“The Rum Diary” movie is about Hunter finding his voice so he can become the mad man taking on the “bastards” of the world. The book is similar to that, but the finding of the voice is not the central theme. It happens comfortably along the way while the reader is drawn into a series of events that are not extraordinary, but intriguing all the same.
The movie tried too hard to hammer in that the world it was set in was something extremely interesting and extraordinary, which took away from how well the print version plays out.
My advice is go read the book. If you watch the movie without reading, you will walk away shaking your head about what the point of the film was. If you read the book first, you can appreciate the art of bringing some of the written scenes visually to life, and maybe ignore a bit of the bad directing or writing or producing involved.
As Depp was such a close friend of Hunter, I would imagine he would have tried harder to create a better movie more true to the novel. But nothing is perfect, and sometimes the best of intentions go awry.
I cannot advise seeing this in theaters, but at home with an open mind and disposition toward watching an artistic movie is not a bad way to spend a few hours. That, and anything about Hunter S. Thompson is worth a swing in my opinion.