A Voice Made of Ink and Rage – A Rum Diary Review

The last scenes of The Rum Diary state that this is just the beginning of the story. The beginning of the story of Hunter S. Thompson, the legendary journalist said to have created Gonzo Journalism, but who is probably better known to our generation for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his bromance with Johnny Depp.

Adapted from Thompson’s first novel, The Rum Diary takes you back to the very beginning. Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), an American journalist loosely based on Thompson, travels from New York to Puerto Rico to write for the San Juan Star.

The run down newspaper is on the brink of going under and Kemp is slotted to write horoscopes and articles about bowling tournaments. That is until the wealthy American entrepreneur Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) enlists Kemp to write favourably about his scheme to convert a pristine island into a corporate paradise in favour of the wealthy white man.

Struggling to find his own voice and to determine what kind of journalist he desires to be, Kemp must choose whether or not to lend his words in support of the corrupt financial criminals or to bring the bastards down.

I want to make a promise to you, the reader. And I don’t know if I can fulfill it tomorrow, or even the day after that. But I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.”

Or so says Kemp in a pivotal scene. Powerful words, a powerful promise. A promise that Thompson does keep throughout his legendary career as a journalist, but a promise that we don’t ever really see during the film itself.

Kemp’s character is only just developing. While he is already somewhat of a raging alcoholic, his antics are relatively moderate, his ideas are just starting to come together and he seems to be sitting comfortably on the sidelines for the majority of the story. Which is understandable with this being the beginning of his story, but the movie seems to end before it really takes off, almost as if it started too soon and missed out on all the action that followed.

It’s painful to say, but even Depp didn’t add any dimensional value to the character. Don’t get us wrong, his portrayal of Kemp/Thompson is spot on, as it always is, but with little depth to the character, he doesn’t have his chance to shine as we’re used to seeing him do in these roles.

In fact, Giovanni Ribisi’s portrayal of Moburg, the infinitely drunk Hitler loving Religion and Crime Reporter, somewhat upstages Depp in every scene he is in. Even Michael Rispoli as photographer Sala seems to have more opportunities to explore his character than Depp does.

Thompson’s work has always had a cult following and extreme fans will no doubt still be interested in seeing this. It is, if nothing else, an interesting look into those early years. But if you’re expecting to see the genius of Thompson come through, stick with the book, as those moments are few and far between.

Hunter S. Thompson
July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005

images from google images