I finally saw The Rum Diary last night, after having read about the awful $5 million take it made in its opening weekend. It’s obviously based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name — one of the few books that I’ve taken the time to read more than three times.
To be honest, I never really felt like it was a work that lent itself especially well to cinema. It’s a great period piece for people interested in late ’50s Puerto Rico, journalism or Hunter Thompson the man, but it’s also meandering, unfocused and lacking in a certain kind of catharsis that readers tend to demand.
It turned out pretty true to form — the film had the same strengths and the same weaknesses as the novel. I didn’t particularly resent the way that the plot was simplified or its subtle moral messages blown out like giant neon signs. That’s just modern cinema.
What I did find interesting though was the way the last third of the movie seemed to transform into a sort of preview of the Fear and Loathing era Hunter Thompson (or Raoul Duke, perhaps). He complains early in the film about not being able to find his voice, and it was only after emerging from the bowels of crony capitalism that we see a glimmer of the character that would take on the “bastards” of the world with a manic sneer. Even his first dip into psychedelics is depicted, making one think immediately of the “golf shoes” scene in Vegas.
HST at least pretended that the story of Jack Kemp wasn’t autobiographical. Depp and co. seem to have done away with that in an homage to their departed friend. As a fan of his work, I enjoyed it for what it was, but I can absolutely understand why it was a commercial flop. There are far too few people left to buy the ticket and take the ride.
Here’s hoping it has a future on DVD.