some thoughts on the rum diary

I’ve long been a fan and admirer of Hunter S. Thompson’s work. I’m also a big fan of literary adaptations and so when a new version of Thompson’s work comes out, especially in wide release, I’m always excited. It began with Where the Buffalo Roam, the Bill Murray, Peter Boyle and Art Linson/John Kaye adaptation way back in 1980. I have to admit I saw that movie before I was familiar with the writing. I remember the “Fuck the Doomed” scene with Nixon and Murray’s Thompson. Really good stuff.

Later I would find out this movie was based on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the CampaignTrail. Two great books I have on my shelf and every once in a while pull and re-read. The last Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas film adaptation I saw was of course the Terry Gilliam, Benicio Del Toro and Johnny Depp version. This film was much truer to the book and showed so much of Gilliam’s imagination and wild visions—so similar to Thompson’s surreal take on journalism. And I have to say while I enjoyed that movie—especially the “Wave Speech” scene. I also enjoyed Gilliam’s direction. I mean I’ve been a fan of Brazil, Time Bandits and the Baron Von Munchausen trilogy.

And those movies are wild and surreal but I have to say I enjoy Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail much more. I think the straight story telling of those books—I guess moreso in Hell’s Angel’s reflects a younger and developing writer. And I guess that is what I liked about the novel the Rum Diary. A young writer finding a voice.

Some of the reviews  I’ve read praised Johnny Depp and a straighter, less surreal story. And the movie was much straighter, I have to admit. The novel is straighter. But still reflecting Thompson’ humor and struggle to stay straight and sober in a wildly unjust world. For this novel that surrounding was 1960’s Puerto Rico. Of course the familiar Thompson themes are there—a fight against authoritarian rule and of course fight against poverty and greedy land development. Something I know Thompson fought against his entire life living in Colorado. The most memorable scenes are of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Paul Kemp finding the true story of Puerto Rico. The poverty and corrupt US government land development. I have to say Rango and this film show me that Depp is a dedicated performer/comedian. Hard to remember so much since he’s so famous and is in some really bad films. I’ve only seen two of the pirate movies and wasn’t that impressed. Haven’t seen the Jolie/Depp movie that critics hated and probably won’t. But Depp really entertained me as a young struggling writer learning the corruption around him. I enjoyed the struggle with debauchery and excess as in all of Thompson’s work. What I didn’t like was what I interpret as making the movie marketable to mass audiences—the female character as sex pot and as a pretty one dimensional character. I think the film cut out some other female characters but the book was written in the sixties. I didn’t like what seemed as Thompson throwing in a bit of his 1990’s knowledge into a 1960’s era book. Things like knowing Kennedy would be killed and a few others. Nitpicking I guess.

I also didn’t like the ending and the final scroll over giving us a mix of the character of Kemp and Thomspon’s life. And I know a two hour film is so different from a 25 or so chapter novel but the third act of this film was a little anti-climactic and “clean” for me despite the R-rating. I mean the book is somewhat violent in the end but this vesion was a bit tame. Not as dark as I remember of the book. I’m nitpicking too hard I guess.

And D said that she thought it would be a bit more about writing and I agree. Oh and Giovanni Ribisi steals quite a few scenes as the alcoholic reporter Moburg.

Oh and found these videos about Thompson’s struggle to get the film made:

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