The Gonzo Diplomat

Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Rum Diary arrives and leaves no spark.

In TV/Movies on November 14, 2011 at 1:37 am

It is a shame, it really is, particularly as I was waiting anxiously for the release of this film and even wrote a detailed entry about it in June 2010. It was a different kind of hype, let’s say, to the one I have regarding the latest Batman movie, set to be released next summer, because whilst I have faith in Christopher Nolan, I was somewhat sceptical as to how Bruce Robinson was going to adapt Hunter S. Thompson’s novel into an interesting, gonzo, high buzz movie. It was going to be hard, especially as I am an avid Hunter S. Thompson fan, and only Terry Gilliam has come close to reflecting the rock and roll craziness and humour Thompson evokes. Robinson had it easier, for the Rum Diary was written when Thompson was yet to be showing that incoherency and anarchy that his drug and alcohol abuse began to exhibit on him, and it even featured a love story, in an odd kind of way, which only adds to make production that tad bit easier.

In the tumultuous times we are currently living, a bit of gonzo rage would have done us some good, but the Rum Diary fails to woo us, and only results in being a weak, diluted and incoherent story that fails to deliver what it supposedly intended, a back story into how Doctor Thompson developed his gonzo style and the rage, fear and loathing that characterised him in the future. This story is nothing more than Diet Gonzo, that not even Hollywood’s Raoul Duke, Johnny Depp, can save.

The settings are beautiful, and the film depicts the heat and dampness of San Juan to a tee, as well as the ambiance of a changing Caribbean, where beachfront properties are hot targets for the wealthy and working class, and for everyone else, there is rum, lots of it.

It is 1960 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Paul Kemp (Depp) arrives unsure as to what he wants, but interested in the alcohol fuelled possibilities of getting a decent story at the San Juan Star and many drunken nights. On his way he will meet incompetent workers, military villains, rich and conceited schmucks, and a beautiful girl, Chenault (Amber Heard).  With this, he will find himself in breathtaking scenarios, panicking car chases, fights, booze fests and loathsome hangovers. That seems pretty gonzo if you ask me, but trust me, it isn’t. Depp tries to evoke the Thompson dialogues in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it looks like a light gimmick of his old interpretation. This leaves me to ponder how much blame Depp has in this, or if it is exclusively Robinson’s fault. Either way, both of them seemed to be so dedicated in focusing on the young Hunter that they ignored other issues that needed consideration in the movie, such as character development, the sociological and political edge that characterised Dr. Gonzo, a decent ending (as the film just seems to end for no apparent reason, as if a buzzer rang and it was time up”) and a sense of coherency and links in the story.

The characters:

The stunning Amber Heard as Chenault

My fear of the absence of an intriguing character, Yeamon, actually was not the gravest loss in the movie. The characters play their role efficiently, Richard Jenkins is formidable as Lotterman, and Michael Rispoli fairs well as Bob Sala, as does Aaron Eckhart as the yobbish Sanderson, the rich class of people that Thompson wanted no way with and often referred to as a class of “bastards”.

Yet two performances I was very interested in were Giovanni Ribisi’s interpretation of Moburg and Amber Heard’s portrayal of Chenault. The first was a pleasant surprise, the latter a disappointment, but not merely because of Heard’s acting, but because of the director’s depiction of her character.

First of all, Ribisi’s performance is laudable, even though at first he may seem irritable, but there is still a feelimg that the characters, much like the actual plot itself, are underdeveloped, as there is too much focus on Kemp, and the story in itself appears to be a raffle of random incidents that even make the chaotic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas appear to be more threaded and coherent, regardless of the anarchy and the constant interior dialogues of Duke, than this piece.

With this, it just seems clear that Robinson doesn’t master the gonzo style, and the extremes that Dr Thompson so often alluded to are diluted to make no shocking effects and leaving a tame plot. It is hard to believe that, with all the special effects and props Hollywood can offer, the director was unable to make a realistic looking cockfight scene at the end of the movie, instead preferring to show brief shots of the birds, fully distanced from each other, in a scene that was supposed to be one of the final build-ups of the film. Furthermore, Chenault’s role as a sex-goddess, a human depiction of lust, is not depicted, without nudity and sexuality, something that Thompson made a great deal of detailing in his novel. In the end, it is just a forgetful movie, a light allusion to the gonzo genre and, for those who were actually waiting for the film, and not just choosing it randomly from the billboard outside a movie theatre, it was a great disappointment and a constant reminder that the book was so much better.