Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Rum Diary

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars) Fr Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb Listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert's Review -

The Rum Diary (screenplay written and directed by Bruce Robinson based on the fictionalized semi-autobiographical book by the same name by Hunter S. Thompson about Thompson's early years) would seem initially like a rather odd movie for a Catholic priest to be reviewing.  However, Hunter Thompson was a icon of the 1960s-70s.  He continues "living" today in the form of the character Uncle Duke in the Doonesbury comic strip.  Finally, for all his notorious drug use, most significantly mescaline and LSD (for which he and his wife paid personally through repeated miscarriages and finally an amicable but nevertheless divorce) he was never a hypocrite.  Indeed, he devoted his life to exposing and destroying "The Bastards" (powerful hypocrites).  He hated Nixon and all that he stood for, but in an interview after 9/11 (with all the flag-waving and the sending of other people's kids to war) he said he'd vote for him over Bush-Cheney.

The Rum Diary, like Thompson's book that inspired it, is a fictionalized account about how Hunter Thompson became who he became.  Kemp (played by Johnny Depp), the Thompson character in the movie arrives in Puerto Rico in 1960 after applying for a job at a local English language paper called the Star.  Morale at the paper is low.  So even though he arrives at his interview in dark sunglasses, clearly hung-over, Lotterman (played by Richard Jenkins) the editor in chief, hires him, saying "I wouldn't have paid to fly you out here if I wasn't already going to give you a job."  He then assigns him to do the daily horoscope column.

Why was moral low at the English-language Star in Puerto Rico?  Well, because Puerto Rico was and to a certain extent remains an American colony.  The only people who speaking English there are expatriates and the vast majority of them tourists.  So how does one write hard-hitting meaningful articles for a paper for whom 90% of its circulation would go to tourists hopping off cruise ships for a couple of hours or days?  Lotterman, indeed makes it clear to Kemp who was trying to get off "horoscope duty" that most of the readers of the Star didn't care about strikes or even about Puerto Rico, but simply wanted to know where the best deals and the best casinos were.  So no wonder that most of the writers at the Star had alcohol problems...

After racking up a bill for over 100 vanity bottles of rum from his hotel room "minibar," Lotterman orders Kemp to find a cheaper place to stay.  The paper's veteran photographer and possibly its only Puertorican native, Moburg (played by Giovanni Ribisi) invites him to stay at his flat noting that another perennially drunk reporter from the paper crashes there as well.  Very good.  Kemp arrives, and seeing that it's kinda spartan asks:
     "I thought you said you had a TV"
     "But I do.  The neighbor 'cross the alley has a TV, his wife can't hear, and I have a set of binoculars."
And so it goes.  Kemp and Moburg scour the island in Moburg's Fiat-500 for news even if Lotterman won't let them print it, catching a few cock-fights in between.

One time on "official business" covering an American convention at a seaside hotel, a bored Kemp runs into a similarly bored European girlfriend Chenalt (played by Amber Heard) of an expatriate American businessman named Sanderson (played by Aaron Eckhart).  When Sanderson meets Kemp as well, Sanderson tries to convince Kemp to help him promote another hotel project that he's involved in.

Much of course ensues, presenting some of the basic themes of Hunter Thompson's life:

First, it's clear that Sanderson and his expatriate clique don't give a damn about either Puerto Rico or its people. Sanderson becomes the archtypical "Bastard" that Kemp/Thompson spends the rest of his life fighting.

Second, Kemp/Thompson presents himself as something of an f-up.  When finally he gets the girl, Chenalt, their great moment of about-to-arrive intimacy is broken, (blown-up really.. ;-) by Moburg's and his perpetually drunk roommate with strangely neo-Nazi tendencies.  As Kemp and Chenalt are trying frantically to get out of each other's clothes, suddenly from the other room comes blaring the voice of an ecstatic Hitler from one of said-roomate's "Best of Hitler's Speaches" record albums ... It just didn't work out ;-)

Finally, Kemp/Thompson's initiation into his legendary (and yes, stupidly dangerous) drug use is presented as having happened during this time.  Again, Moburg and Kemp's perpetually drunk room-mate comes home, all excited, one evening saying "I just scored a drug so powerful that the FBI only gives it to Communists!"  With that kind of an introduction, Moburg and Kemp decide they have to try it...

So what to say about this movie and then about Hunter Thompson?  He was an interesting character.  His crusade against "The Bastards" was certainly laudable.  He did have a sense of humor captured quite well in the film.  BUT PLEASE KIDS DON'T DO THE DRUGS.  Thompson did fry his brains on them, and I personally know others who did even worse than he.

There's one person I personally knew whose brains got so scrambled that at age 25, that he lost all but his short term memory.  His wife of one year, eventually left him and returned him to his parents.  Why?  Would you want at 24-25 to stay forever with someone who a year into your marriage could no longer function as an adult and would remain in that condition until he died? 

So Hunter Thompson was a fun character to perhaps admire from a distance (and as I mentioned at the beginning of my review, apparently even he personally suffered for his drug use).  So please don't emulate his sins.  On the other hand with regard to his fighting "the Bastards," how could one disagree with that? ;-)

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