Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, to help make ends meet, hard-drinking failed novelist Paul Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local English language newspaper, The San Juan Star, run by the downtrodden editor Lotterman. Arriving in an alcoholic haze, Kemp doesn't impress Lotterman so he assigns him to tourist pieces and horoscopes, but promises more.
Paul soon becomes friends, and lodger at a rather rundown apartment, with two other equally alcoholic reporters in the paper, the crazy Moberg, a deadbeat reporter who can't be fired (and who's mind can only be explained as having been melted by the local rum), and the cynical Sala who tells him that he thinks the newspaper will soon fold. Living in the poor end of town is not quite the life he was expecting, especially when he witnesses the opulence the island can offer, but at least he's not stuck in New York.
Quickly moving on from making up horoscopes, Paul starts to find his feet in the world of crime and politics. His writing is soon noticed by Sanderson, a reporter come public-relations man working for businesses looking to make a fortune on a nearby island with tourism possibilities where the US military is relinquishing its lease. So, in order to help "talk up" the island and its potential financial benefits, he offers Paul some work - and connections - to write some real estate articles to support the resort. However, after meeting with Sanderson, Paul is less interested in his connections than Chenault - the wildly attractive fiancée of Sanderson.
But, as the dodgy nature of the real estate unfolds, Paul starts to discover the ugly truth behind the gleaming resort facades of Puerto Rico and thinks he has a real story on his hands. However, his Editor refuses to publish an exposé that might damage the image of the island and dampen tourism, but Moberg informs him that Lotterman has closed the paper, Kemp decides to straighten up and print a last issue, telling the truth about Lotterman and Sanderson, as well as the stories Lotterman declined. The only issue they now have is to find the money for the final print run - Kemp, Sala and Moberg are going to need some help from a witch doctor and a feisty cockerel.
Given that the film is set in the 1960's the image is based around the various colours and styles of the time. Whilst the image is often dark (although I'm lead to believe that this was delibrate), the overall quality of the transfer is fantastic, with some bold, crisp and clean images throughout and no signs of any print damage or other picture imperfections. Mind you, some of the CGI effects during the drug and alcohol induced hallucinations were a little too obvious at times - although I suspect some tight budget restraints meant that they couldn't do too much with what they had.
The 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is just as good as the picture. Being heavily dialogue based (and given some of the characters are drunk most of the time) the dialogue is easy to understand and it remains locked in the front stereo channels throughout and provide a good level of stereo steerage too. Whilst there are no LFE effects to speak of, the surround channels are kept occupied by the various moody, and atmospheric, ambient effects whilst the Christopher Young score provides some wonderful jazzy tunes to accompany the on screen antics which all help involve the viewer in the film.
All in all it's a cracking all round performance which really adds to the overall enjoyment of the film.
Upon inserting the disc you're greeted by a number of trailers for titles of varying quality with My Week With Marilyn, Underworld : Awakening, The Fields and Gone. Fortunately, you're not forced to watch them so you can skip to the wonderfully animated and scored menu where you select the various options via a typewriter styled menu system.
Whilst the picture and audio help to increase the film's enjoyment, there's an unfortunate lack of extras. However, whilst the extra features may be low on number, and there's no subtitles on either featurette, dig a little deeper and you'll discover that they are high on quality with two good background featurettes - although there is a fair cross-over between the two.
First off is the twelve minute A Voice Made of Ink and Rage : Inside the Rum Diary featurette in which Johnny Depp appears on-camera to talk about his relationship with Hunter S. Thompson and the way the project came into fruition. With plenty of on-set footage, and information from Depp and others, it's an interesting peep into both minds of Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson.
Next up is the forty-five minute The Rum Diary Back-Story. Containing information from all quarters - including historian, and friend, Douglas Brinkley, it features many clips from various interviews with Hunter S. Thompson about The Rum Diary. Naturally, it wouldn't be a film starring Johnny Depp if the man himself didn't have some input so he also appears in some of the clips as the pair discus the project, the storyline and bringing the film to the screen. All in all it's an interesting look at how the film came into being.
Things are rounded off with that ultimate of padding material - the Theatrical Trailer.
When Johnny Depp appears in a film you can be pretty much sure of a banker and lorry loads of money heading back to the studio. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for The Rum Diary as it failed to do much at the box office. However, that doesn't mean that the film is no good - far from it - as it's a wonderful piece of entertainment and a fussy audience was simply expecting another outing of Captain Jack Sparrow (which, in fact, is not too far off from what you get!).
Whilst I'll readily admit to not knowing much about gonzo journalism legend Hunter S. Thompson, nor the critically acclaimed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it's obvious from the extras that Johnny Depp has great respect for the man (which is all the more suprising when you consider that Thompson not only had some dubious drug and alcohol binges, he also went on to killed himself in 2005). Making The Rum Diary was a sacred mission for Depp and he wanted to pay tribute to his hero. I just wonder whether he'd be disappointed by the poor takings - although he certainly shouldn't be disappointed by the on-screen results.
Overall, with the extras providing an interesting insight into both Depp and Thompson, The Rum Diary is a great film and has some solid performances highlighted by yet another memorable performance from Johnny Depp and the equally wonderful Giovanni Ribisi. If you enjoyed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas then this film should be the perfect complement. However, if you haven't seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas then you can still enjoy this much unrated, and undervalued, film. Highly recommended.
- A Voice Made of Ink and Rage : Inside the Rum Diary
- The Rum Diary Back-Story
- Theatrical Trailers