Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Rum Diary - Bruce Robinson (2011)

  1. The Rum Diary is a confused film about boozing in Puerto Rico, based on a novel by Hunter S. Thomson with a screenplay and direction from Bruce Robinson.
  2. Robinson is famous for Withnail and I, but he also made How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a poorly researched but entertaining morality tale about an ad executive (Do you mean executive or do you mean copywriter? Well how about you make up your fucking mind?) who grows a talking boil. He also wrote an autobiographical novel The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, which the 10-Point Review can't really recommend.
  3. About half-way through this film Johnny Depp's character, Kemp, visits a ghetto where he takes a picturesque photo of a young black girl through the window of an abandoned car. This scene is meant to demonstrate that Kemp is more than a tourist, he's a serious reporter with an axe to grind. Yes, fine, but the majority of the film is about getting drunk and chasing girls on a tropical island, which is more or less the modern definition of tourism. And all the other black people in it are hostile, frightening or sexually threatening. You cannot both have your cake, and also eat your cake.
  4. In fact, if you're scared of gays and black people you'll love this. As in Withnail and I male homosexuals are menacing, but in Puerto Rico it's not just Uncle Monty who wants to bugger you, there are a load of sailors who are just dying to get right into your ass. There's also the scene in which a sweating Chenault (Amber Heard) dances with a young black man whose abs look like they've been carved from an illegally logged Amazonian hardwood while her husband (Aaron Ekchart) is forcibly restrained, powerless to intervene. You probably recognised these scenes as the expressions of sexual neurosis they patently are. If you're this worried about being forced to suck cock, no wonder you have to drink so much.
  5. Speaking of which, there's a lot of cock fighting in this film, a blood sport that's illegal on the US mainland, but not in Puerto Rico. Its inclusion, in unflinching slow-motion, along with the racism and homophobia mentioned above, as well as the boozing, drug-taking, fast cars and the edible female lead, demonstrates the film's unrepentantly retro aesthetic. This is subtly different from the reconstructed retro of, say, Mad Men, which encourages the viewer to see the 60s in a slightly patronising light ('Nice suits, but if only they'd had therapy'). It's a sort of paean to a time when life was less complicated and/because these things were allowed to pass unexamined.
  6. Bruce Robinson is a recovering alcoholic who relapsed to write this screenplay. Maybe that's what gives the movie its holiday feel: an escape from reality and its concomitant moral responsibilities. (Is it ok to have sex with prostitutes if you only do it in Puerto Rico? Just asking.)
  7. You might consider this film as a sort of prequel to Terry Gilliam's, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Depp who at 35, played the 34-year-old Thompson in Fear and Loathing, now at 48 plays the 22-year-old Thompson in The Rum Diary. Basically he's twelve years older where he should be twelve years younger. It's confusing, and all you can take from it is that Jonny Depp looks fantastic for his age.
  8. Aaron Eckhart is forging a career as what William Burroughs called 'The Ugly American'. Which is not to say that he's ugly, but that's there's something about his too-good-to-be-true jawline that means he's inevitably cast as a representative of everything that's cruel in the American dream. A few decades ago he would just have been a leading man, a la Donald Sutherland, but now he appears in order to demonstrate the vulnerability of old America, brought about by its lack sensitivity. His girlfriend is bound to cheat on him.
  9. Hopeless sentimentality is as much a feature of alcoholism as drinking alcohol. And this film has a sentimental streak about a mile wide.
  10. 'Empower the fowl', 'Your tongue is an accusatory giblet! Keep it out!', 'Can you smell that? That's the smell of bastards' - these phrases are characteristic of Hunter S. Thomson's idiosyncratic voice. Yes, well, none of them are in the book - they come from Robinson, who, let us not forget, could write a line for Uncle Monty like ' Come on lads, let's get home, the sky's beginning to bruise, night must fall and we shall be forced to camp.'

1 comment:

  1. The ending of the Rum Diary is a compressed reversal of Jack Sparrow's entrance in POTC:1.

    Is it a coincidence that an anagram of The Rum Diary is A Humid Retry?