In the film, Depp plays Paul Kemp, a roving journalist who moves from the states to Puerto Rico in the 1950s to write for the San Juan Star, an English-language newspaper. We meet his editor, Edward Lotterman, played by Richard Jenkins, who assigns Kemp to write horoscopes, the most mundane of tasks for the new employee. One might expect Kemp to show some journalistic integrity, and demand a more ambitious task, but instead, he simply nods and contently accepts the role. In short, he just doesn't care.
The newspaper doesn't exactly scream competence, either. Lotterman warns Kemp right away that the last thing he needs is another drunk, since the newspaper is already chock-full of them, and warns Kemp to keep the drinking to a minimum. One of those employees who is partial to the booze is Bob Sala, played by Michael Rispoli, a photographer at the newspaper who takes Kemp under his wing, even lets him stay at his apartment, and more prominently, becomes his drinking buddy.
In Puerto Rico, Kemp is a fish out the water. Unable to even speak a lick of Spanish, he experiences a major culture clash upon his arrival. Though he left the states to escape the overwhelming presence of greed and corruption -- something as a journalist, he is undoubtedly exposed to -- , he soon discovers that Puerto Rico is not much different.
While temporarily staying in a small, grimy apartment with Sala, the two spend what little income they have on benders and booze. However, Kemp receives a opportunity to better his situation when he meets Hal Sandersson (Aaron Eckhart), an extremely wealthy businessman who doesn't exactly conduct his business in the most moral, or even legal ways.
|Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard|
Sanderssonn, in a way, is living the American dream, only in Puerto Rico. Living in an illustrious beach side villa, with his gorgeous girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), expensive cars and an endless flow of money. He is an expatriate, and has no qualms in tampering with land that he has no right to, which, only naturally, would place him in ill-favor with the natives. That is why he needs Kemp, who he is easily able to lure with the help of Chenault, some charm, and a nice car.
From then, we follow Kemp's escapades, which sometimes are ludicrous -- including him breathing fire into a policeman's face, and orally inducing "the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics," --, and at other times, the script, written by Robinson, is impressively profound and intelligent, with Oscar Wilde quotes, and deep philosophical statements about the state of journalism.
We learn the base of Kemp's need for drink; it's his lack of self-worth. He knows he has a voice, but he just can't find it. "I’ve been dragging a typewriter around with me for 10 years. I’ve written nothing," he tells Chenault. "I don’t know how to write like me.” But somewhere along the narrative, Kemp does find his voice, only to become discouraged when he can't find the proper outlet to voice it.
|Michael Rispoli as Bob Sala in The Rum Diary|
I think it's fair to say that Hunter S. Thompson's stint in Puerto Rico played an integral role in his life and career, and represented an eye-opening experience for him as a journalist. In a foreign land, he learns that nobody really wants to hear the truth. The Rum Diary conveys such, as Kemp learns the harsh reality of his profession, and it's harsh enough that the only way he could respond to it is with a swig of rum.
~ Review by Ddubbs