It’s been over a decade since work first began on adapting Hunter S. Thompson’s roman à clef The Rum Diary, a frustratingly drawn-out process Thompson famously characterized as a “waterhead fuckaround” before ridding himself of the whole damn mess with his 2005 suicide. With Thompson gone, it was left entirely up to his big-screen alter ego, Johnny Depp, and Withnail And I director Bruce Robinson to manhandle Thompson’s early novel into working shape, and, ideally, recapture some of the “gonzo” energy and narcotic euphoria of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas—even if The Rum Diary was written when Thompson was just an anxious, alcoholic, 22-year-old malcontent, and not yet the acid-fried sage he would make himself out to be.
But I know, I know: Tell me about the fucking golf shoes. The film finds Depp playing Thompson’s fictional stand-in Paul Kemp—though he’s still doing his Thompson impression—a boozing, mini-bar-raiding journalist who takes a job writing for a small Puerto Rican newspaper, makes life hell for his editor (Richard Jenkins), has drunken adventures with his crazy friends, and gets mixed up with the beautiful, frequently naked Chenault (Amber Heard). In the book, Chenault is the girlfriend of Kemp’s co-worker and best friend, Yeoman—a seemingly integral character, though one that’s been cut entirely from the film.
Instead, the movie version hands Chenault off to the corrupt, turtle-bedazzling real estate magnate Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a minor figure in the novel who appears to have been beefed up here to give Depp’s character a heroic arc. Add some LSD to the mix as a sop to Fear And Loathing fans, and The Rum Diary seems to have taken quite a bit of artistic license with its source material. But hey, at least they finally broke free of that fuckaround.