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The Rum Diary Blu-ray Review

The Rum Diary (2011) movie poster The Rum Diary

Theatrical Release: October 28, 2011 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Bruce Robinson / Writers: Hunter S. Thompson (novel), Bruce Robinson (screenplay)

Cast: Johnny Depp (Paul Kemp), Aaron Eckhart (Hal Sanderson), Michael Rispoli (Bob Sala), Amber Heard (Chenault), Richard Jenkins (Edward J. Lotterman), Giovanni Ribisi (Moberg), Amaury Nolasco (Segurra), Marshall Bell (Donovan), Bill Smitrovich (Mr. Zimburger), Julian Holloway (Wolsley), Bruno Irizarry (Lazar), Enzo Cilenti (Digby), Aaron Lustig (Monk)

Buy The Rum Diary from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

In the pantheon of iconic Johnny Depp film characters, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' Raoul Duke ranks somewhere near Captain Jack Sparrow and Depp's many distinctive personalities for director Tim Burton.
The Rum Diary offers perhaps the closest we'll ever get to Depp reprising Duke, because this film adapts a long-lost novel by Fear and Loathing author Hunter S. Thompson, written in the early 1960s and finally published in 1998. Depp, who developed a well-documented friendship with Thompson before the latter's 2005 death, treats Rum nearly like another roman เ clef, the result of an unmistakably autobiographical protagonist.

The year is 1960. Aspiring New York novelist Paul Kemp (Depp) arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico a day late to work as a horoscope writer for The San Juan Star, a modest newspaper whose future seems uncertain to its staff. Like the motorcycle race in Fear, the astrology column is beneath our antihero and of little interest to both him and us. Kemp finds adventure elsewhere, moving in with the husky and sympathetic photographer Bob Sala (this film's Dr. Gonzo, nicely played by Michael Rispoli).

With drug experimentation not yet in vogue, Kemp gets high on alcohol, especially the local favorite, rum. Intoxication leaves Kemp and Sala in serious trouble with the law and looking at a jail sentence. Fortunately for them, their bond is paid by Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a wealthy, influential American who is looking for Kemp to do business with him. Far more tickled by Sanderson's beautiful beach bunny fianc้e Chenault (Amber Heard) than his plans to commercialize a small uninhabited island with a series of hotels, Kemp nonetheless gets dragged into the development and made to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) reports to the San Juan Star in sunglasses, allegedly to protect his conjunctivitis. Wealthy American businessman Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) lends his help with expectations.

Instead of following through on just one central thread, The Rum Diary gives us a little bit of everything: Kemp's romantic desires, labor setbacks at the Star, and his mixed feelings on and obligations to Sanderson's racket.

The film is as interested in atmosphere as story and allows us plenty of opportunity to soak up the sunny scenery and effervescent flavor of Puerto Rico, where it indeed was shot. Kemp feels like a toned-down version of the embellished, rarely lucid Duke. We get almost none of the trippy imagery of Terry Gilliam and only "brief drug use" factors into the MPAA's R rating description. And yet, this is still largely a film that feels under the influence of something. There are times when Thompson/Duke's voice becomes so very clear, such as when Kemp is ragging on Nixon or vowing to stand up to "the bastards." Undoubtedly, Depp's encounters with the author shape his performance.

Depp gets a decent amount of support here. In addition to the aforementioned, Richard Jenkins plays the Star's toupeed editor-in-chief and Giovanni Ribisi is Moberg, an insane, not exactly employed alcoholic and unreliable roommate who gets some kicks out of listening to records of Hitler speeches.

Unstable Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) makes for interesting company, especially during a drunken rant. A number of Kemp's actions are motivated by the beauty of Sanderson fianc้e Chenault (Amber Heard).

The Rum Diary is strange, but considerably less so than Thompson's previous narrative film adaptation. It feels like a movie older folks might enjoy, if they gave it a chance, and one that might bore younger people expecting Depp's now signature mania or a Fear and Loathing sequel. That would explain why the movie was a complete non-starter at the box office, its pitiful $24 million worldwide gross just barely recouping half of the production budget. This was Depp's weakest showing in a wide release since Pirates of the Caribbean cemented him as an A-list movie star.
You'd have to go back to 1999's costly dud The Astronaut's Wife to find a comparable flop. The performance couldn't have been entirely unexpected, since though shot in 2009 and bearing a 2010 copyright date, Rum sat waiting for a choice release window, with fledgling FilmDistrict finally deciding on a reasonable late-October debut close enough to awards season to be remembered but far away enough not to look like Oscar bait.

And no one will accuse The Rum Diary of being Oscar bait, because it just wasn't received strongly enough to even warrant being called a snub by the various awards parties. The movie has won just a single award acknowledged by IMDb: Amber Heard being recognized with one of seven Spotlight Awards by the obscure Hollywood Film Festival.

The lack of recognition marks the film as somewhat of an inauspicious return for Bruce Robinson. The former actor, probably best known for playing Benvolio in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 Romeo and Juliet, sat in the director's chair here for the first time since 1992's Jennifer Eight. Robinson also wrote the screenplay, his first since 1999's In Dreams and only his seventh since he was Oscar-nominated for his debut adaptation, The Killing Fields.

Hoping to attract the notice it didn't in theaters, The Rum Diary comes to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday from FilmDistrict home video partner Sony.

The Rum Diary Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


The Blu-ray's 1.85:1 transfer is oddly desaturated and a bit pale, possibly because The Rum Diary was shot on Super 16 film. Still, it is plenty picturesque in its colorful Puerto Rican scenery. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is quite good, making good use of the sound field on a regular occasion.

Hunter S. Thompson hears an excerpt from his book read in his office that hangs a pre-9/11 FBI wanted poster for Osama Bin Laden. To get into character and honor Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp dabs some rum behind the ears, as "A Voice Made of Ink and Rage" showcases.


Valuing quality over quantity, FilmDistrict has not yet become as blas้ towards bonus features as the major movie studios.
The Rum Diary is joined by just two extras and neither one a commentary, deleted scenes collection, or trailer.

"A Voice Made of Ink and Rage: Inside The Rum Diary" (12:39, HD) is a pretty standard making-of featurette, full of talking heads, film clips, and a bit of B-roll. It's a good but glossy piece on production, hinting at the loose adaptation, but focusing more on the location shooting, period production and costume design, and on-set "presence" of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

The other inclusion is "The Rum Diary Back-Story" (45:56, SD), whose simple title gives no inkling of its spectacular nature. This is one of the best and most fascinating making-of documentaries I've seen, even though it misses the actual film production by at least seven years. What we get here is exclusive footage from 1998 to 2002 of Hunter S. Thompson collaborating on his novel's overdue publication and its long-coming adaptation. Thompson works with a publisher to do minimal editing and then meets again and again with Depp to get the ball rolling on a film. Some complementary new interviews place the arresting, intimate old footage into some context.

This sheds a great deal of light on how involved and excited Thompson was in getting the novel filmed. In an infamous profanity-laced fax (read here, inexplicably, by the late Warren Zevon), he pressures the book's low-budget optioner/his sort-of girlfriend Holly Sorensen to get the ball rolling with a screenwriter (Michael Thomas) and supporting cast (Nick Nolte, Benicio del Toro, and Brad Pitt) quite different from what would be realized. With the dynamic author front and center, these preproduction home movies are infinitely more colorful and compelling than what most behind-the-scenes pieces offer, glitchy fuzzy video and all.

The Previews listing plays ads for Blu-ray, London Boulevard, In the Land of Blood & Honey, Drive, Tonight You're Mine and Retreat

In the only Blu-ray exclusive feature, the disc is equipped with BD-Live, which lets you stream The Rum Diary's original theatrical trailer and other Sony previews and bonus feature excerpts.

The inspired menu hangs still photos up in dilapidated squalor, occasionally transforming the still to a montage. The side-snapped case places artwork in all available places and supplies a double-sided insert advertising recent Sony BDs and giving you a Sony Rewards disc registration code. No UltraViolet digital copy this time around.

Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) and Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) go for a sunset walk on the shore of an uninhabited Puerto Rican island being developed.


Not that long ago, The Rum Diary would have been a typical Johnny Depp movie, attracting the actor's modest but devout fanbase. Now, it feels like a minor diversion from his lucrative gig as one of mainstream cinema's biggest stars. While his following is much larger now, it's clearly less obligated to show support, which explains how a passion project more than ten years in the making could fizzle so. Fans of Hunter S. Thompson may very well be disappointed by this loose adaptation of the first novel he wrote. Those entering without knowledge of the text are more likely to enjoy this colorful, meandering jaunt.

Sony's Blu-ray delivers atypical but solid picture, excellent sound, and one of the best bonus features you'll see. It is worth a look, especially for those who have been itching for Depp to return to his offbeat, less commercial roots.

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Buy the Novel by Hunter S. Thompson: Paperback / Kindle

Related Reviews:
Johnny Depp: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion Blu-ray) • Dead Man • Rango • The Tourist • Finding Neverland
Johnny Depp (cont'd): Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Aaron Eckhart: Battle: Los Angeles | Amber Heard: Drive Angry • And Soon the Darkness • The Joneses • Exterminators
Michael Rispoli: Mr. 3000 • Invincible | Giovanni Ribisi: The Middle Men • Avatar
Richard Jenkins: Step Brothers • Eat Pray Love • Hall Pass • Dear John
Fall Films on Blu-ray: Drive • The Ides of March • Contagion • In Time

The Rum Diary Songs List: Dean Martin - "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)", Xanadu Ensemble Band - "Sin Ti", The Tornados - "Telstar", "Just One Night With You", Eugene Ruffolo - "Nothin' But Lovin'", JD Band - "Roll Out the Roosters", Johnny Depp and JJ Holiday - "Kemp in the Village", Mantovani & His Orchestra - "Charmaine", Joe Lervold and Shanna Carlsen - "A Dozen Roses", "Maggie's Nights", Cortijo y Su Combo and Ismael Rivera - "Volare", Dick Dale & His Del-Tones - "Surfing Drums", Carnival Band - "Steel Band Medley", Ruben Gonzalez - "Mandinga", "September Love", Tisulby Gonzalez - "Como Me Duele", "Go Cat Go", Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers - "Let's Get Funky", Marc Johnson - "Col Legno", Moberg Bifocal - "The Lending Men Loan Company", Frankie Miller - "After All (I Live My Life)", JD Band - "What About El Mounstro?", Patti Smith - "The Mermaid Song"

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Reviewed February 13, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 FilmDistrict, GK Films, Infinitum Nihil, FilmEngine,
and 2012 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.