Rhum Express Film Critique Essay

The Rum Diary is a 2011 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Bruce Robinson, based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson. It stars Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins and Giovanni Ribisi.

Filming began in Puerto Rico in March 2009 and was released on October 28, 2011.[5] The film received mixed reviews and grossed just $23 million against its $45 million budget.


Paul Kemp is an author who hasn't been able to sell a book. He gets a job at a newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, he meets Sala, who gets him acclimatized and tells him he thinks the newspaper will fold soon. Kemp checks into a hotel and while idling about on a boat in the sea, meets Chenault, who is skinny-dipping while avoiding a Union Carbide party. Kemp is immediately smitten with her.

Kemp and Sala immediately go on a drinking binge, which earns Kemp the enmity of his editor, Lotterman. Kemp also meets Moburg, a deadbeat reporter who can't be fired. While waiting for an interview, Kemp meets Sanderson, a freelance realtor, who offers him a job writing ads for his latest venture. Sanderson is engaged to Chenault, who pretends not to know Kemp.

Later, Kemp moves in with Sala, who also rooms with Moburg. Kemp begins to see the poverty of San Juan, but Lotterman doesn't want him to write about it, as it's bad for tourism. Moburg returns with leftover filters from a rum plant; they contain high-proof alcohol. Moburg has been fired, and rants about killing Lotterman.

Kemp visits Sanderson and spies him making love to Chenault. He meets Zimburger and Segarra, who want him to help with a real estate scam. Later, Sala and Kemp go to a restaurant and berate the owner for refusing them service; Kemp senses that the owner wants to kill them, and he and Sala beat a hasty retreat, pursued by angry locals. The police arrive and break up the fight, then throw Sala and Kemp in jail. Sanderson bails them out.

The next day, Kemp meets with Sanderson's crew, who tell him that the US military is relinquishing the lease on some prime real estate, and is asked to pick up Chenault from her house. Kemp and Chenault share a moment, but resist temptation.

Zimburger takes Kemp and Sala to see the island property, then they head to St. Thomas for Carnival. Kemp finds Chenault, and they wind up on Sanderson's boat. Sanderson berates Kemp for involving Sala in the deal. At night, they go to a club, and a drunk Chenault dances with local men to provoke Sanderson, with whom she has been fighting. The owners of the bar beat up Sanderson and throw Kemp out of the club. Chenault is left behind at the bar, but where she ends up is not known.

The next day, Chenault is gone, and Sanderson tells Kemp that their business arrangement is over. When Sala and Kemp return home, Moburg tells them that Lotterman has left and that the paper will go out of business. He also sells them hallucinogens, which they take. Kemp has an epiphany while under the influence, and resolves to write an exposé on Sanderson's shady deals.

Lotterman returns, but won't publish Kemp's story. Chenault shows up at Kemp's place, after Sanderson disowns her. Out of spite, Sanderson withdraws his bail, meaning that Kemp and Sala are now wanted by the police. Moburg also tells them that Lotterman has closed the paper. Kemp decides to print a last issue, telling the truth about Lotterman and Sanderson, as well as the stories Lotterman declined.

To make money to print the last edition, Kemp, Sala and Moburg place a big cockfighting bet. They visit Papa Nebo, Moburg's hermaphrodite witch doctor, to lay a blessing on Sala's prize cockerel. They win, but return to the office to find that the printing presses have been confiscated.

Kemp continues his quest, leaving Puerto Rico on a sailboat. The end credits explain that Kemp makes it back to New York, marries Chenault, and becomes a successful journalist, having finally found his voice as a writer.



Hunter S. Thompson wrote the novel The Rum Diary in 1961, but it was not published until 1998.[6] The independent production companies Shooting Gallery and SPi Films sought to adapt the novel into a film in 2000, and Johnny Depp was signed to star and to serve as executive producer. Nick Nolte was also signed to star alongside Depp.[7] The project did not move past the development stage.[6] During this stage, the author became so frustrated as to fire off an obscenity-laden letter calling the process a "waterhead fuckaround".[8]

In 2002, a new producer sought the project, and Benicio del Toro and Josh Hartnett were signed to star in the film adaptation.[7] The second incarnation also did not move past the development stage.[6] In 2007, producer Graham King acquired all rights to the novel and sought to film the adaptation under Warner Independent Pictures.[7] Depp, who previously starred in the 1998 film adaptation of Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was cast as the freelance journalist Paul Kemp.[6]Amber Heard is reported to have been preferred over Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley. Bruce Robinson joined to write the screenplay and to direct The Rum Diary.[7] In 2009, Depp's production company Infinitum Nihil took on the project with the financial backing of King and his production company GK Films. Principal photography began in Puerto Rico on March 25, 2009.[9] Composer Christopher Young signed on to compose the film's soundtrack.[10]

Robinson had been sober for six and a half years before he started writing the screenplay for The Rum Diary.[11] The filmmaker found himself suffering from writer's block. He started drinking a bottle of wine a day until he finished the script and then he quit drinking again. He spent a year filming in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Hollywood and resisted drinking until the crew arrived in Fajardo. Robinson remembers, "It was 100 degrees at two in the morning and very humid. Everyone's drenched in sweat. One of the prop guys goes by with a barrow-load of ice and Coronas. I said: 'Johnny, this doesn't mean anything.' And reached for a Corona... Some savage drinking took place. When I was no longer in Johnny's environment I went back to sobriety."[11]

In regard to playing the character of Kemp, Depp compared and related it to his previous role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He said “The way I approached it was that the character of Paul Kemp is Raoul Duke as he was learning to speak. It was like playing the same character, only 15 years before. This guy’s got something; there’s an energy burning underneath it, it’s just ready to pop up, shoot out.”


On review aggregatorRotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 50% based on 160 reviews, with a rating average of 5.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "It's colorful and amiable enough, and Depp's heart is clearly in the right place, but The Rum Diary fails to add sufficient focus to its rambling source material."[12]Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews, gives the film a score of 56 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film was a "C" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Wyatt Williams, writing for Creative Loafing, argues that "the movie version amounts to Thompson's whole vision of journalism, glossed and made plain by Hollywood."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Fleming, Mike (March 29, 2011). "Johnny Depp's Second Hunter Thompson Pic, 'Rum Diary,' Lands At FilmDistrict". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  2. ^"The Rum Diary (15)". Bruce Robinson. British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 2011-10-13. 
  3. ^ ab"The Rum Diary (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  4. ^Kaufman, Amy (October 27, 2011). "Movie Projector: 'Puss in Boots' to stomp on competition". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved October 27, 2011. 
  5. ^"GK Films and Infinitum Nihil's The Rum Diary Lands at Filmdistrict". Retrieved March 23, 2011. 
  6. ^ abcdTilly, Chris (December 2007). "Depp opens 'Rum Diary'". Time Out. Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  7. ^ abcdGoldstein, Gregg (July 30, 2007). "Depp toasts Hunter S. Thompson with 'Rum Diary'". Reuters. 
  8. ^"Okay, you lazy bitch". Letters of Note. 2009-09-17. Retrieved 2012-02-24. 
  9. ^"The Rum Diary Now Filming". IGN. April 2, 2009. Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  10. ^"Christopher Young to score The Rum Diary". MovieScore Magazine. October 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  11. ^ abChalmers, Robert (February 20, 2011). "Bruce Robinson: "I started drinking again because of The Rum Diary"". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  12. ^"The Rum Diary (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  13. ^"The Rum Diary Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  14. ^Finke, Nikki (October 30, 2011). "Snow Ices Box Office: 'Puss In Boots' #1, 'Paranormal' #2, 'In Time' #3, 'Rum Diary' #4". Deadline.com. PMC. Retrieved October 30, 2011. 
  15. ^"A rum diary: Fear and self-loathing in the multiplex". Creative Loafing. Retrieved October 30, 2011. 

External links[edit]

In the early 1960s, after he had discovered booze but before he had stumbled across drugs, the young Hunter S. Thompson got an uncertain start in journalism. By the time he was 20, he had already been fired as a copy boy for Time magazine for "insubordination" and from the Middletown (N.Y.) Daily Record for destroying the office candy machine. He moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, seeking a job on the San Juan Star, where he was turned down.

This career path looks marginally sunnier in "The Rum Diary," based on a novel he wrote in the early 1970s. The story goes that Johnny Depp found the manuscript among Thompson's papers in his Colorado cabin on Woody Creek, and was instrumental in getting it published and now produced as a film. The writer-director, Bruce Robinson, was a good choice, having already directed a landmark, "Withnail & I" (1987) about an alcoholic who was Thompson's equal — or inferior, or superior, whichever fits.


The film opens as the ambitious young hero Paul Kemp (Depp), sporting a white suit, a straw hat and the dark glasses Thompson would wear for a lifetime, applies for a reporting job at the Star. It doesn't appear to be the kind of paper that attracted the ambitious in those days. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), the editor, spots him for trouble and immediately asks him how much he drinks. "The high end of social."

He is the only applicant for the job and gets it. He falls in with Sala (Michael Rispoli), the paper's veteran photographer, and Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), a shambling wreck who has been fired but still hangs round the newspaper office. San Juan in those days appears to have been a lively little metropolis in which a reporter on an English-language newspaper was a stranger in a strange land. One of Kemp's stories concerns Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a property developer who has grown rich through shady deals, and occupies a palatial beach home where he entertains local investors.

The movie is cast as autobiographical, assuming that Thompson had been given the job in the first place. He was a writer with lifelong trouble with deadlines, not a good trait when you're one of the few reporters on a daily. For all the movie makes clear, Kemp may have been the only one. He is of great value to the snaky Sanderson, however, because what appears in a newspaper has the illusion of fact, and Sanderson hopes to bribe him to write favorable coverage of his property schemes. This he does with a shiny red Corvette to match the shiny red lipstick on his mistress, Chenault (Amber Heard), who is Kemp's for the taking. One suspects Kemp could have been bought for far less.

Depp has a deep attraction to Hunter Thompson, who he played earlier in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998). Thompson was apparently good company; my friend Bill Nack, an otherwise sensible man, logged time with him covering prizefights and liked him. The mystery involved how Thompson possibly consumed so many intoxicants and hallucinatory drugs, lived until he was 67, and wrote a great deal of invaluable prose, most of it turned in late.

Thompson had a speaking style that Depp re-creates accurately in "The Rum Diary." He mutters in a low voice, as if marginally short on breath, or as if fearful of jarring something loose inside his head. He never seems particularly drunk, but sometimes it's more like he went through drunk and came out the other side.


There is the dim purpose, in the film and I guess in the novel, that Kemp is fighting corruption in the form of American money being used to defraud Puerto Ricans. This is no doubt his purpose, but his mind is so muddled and his days so haphazard that he often seems to be drifting toward a vaguely seen destination.

The mistress Chenault is played by the sensuous Amber Heard as a woman who is tired of Sanderson's wealth and ego and inexplicably drawn to Kemp's shabby life and disreputable friends. True, Sanderson is a rat and Kemp is a crusader, but a girl like Chenault doesn't finds herself living with a millionaire on the beach if she has a taste for shaky drunks.

We have the feeling that Kemp/Thompson saw much of life through the bottom of a dirty glass and did not experience it with any precision. The film duplicates this sensation, not with much success. The difference between Kemp and Withnail is that Withnail is seen from outside, partly through the eyes of his horrified friend. As Kemp loses focus, so does the story.

I can imagine a tightly written newspaper story set in San Juan and populated with colorful characters, but Paul Kemp's view seems clouded by his uncertain perception. At the film's end, we're informed that Kemp saw that the bastards got what was coming to them, but I suspect San Juan was much the same when Kemp (and Thompson) left.

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