Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) describes his drinking as being on “the upper end of social”, but in full honestly he could rival Captain Jack Sparrow for the rum drinking gold medal. But, despite this film’s misguiding marketing campaign, this is not Pirates of the Caribbean 1960s edition. It still involves, rum, mermaids, partying, and sailing in the Caribbean. But this is also the story of a man with no morals who saw much of the world through the bottom of an empty bottle of rum, and realized there was something very wrong with it. Afterwards, he learned a hangover is not the best state of mind in which to solve them. Will he sober up? Perhaps. But rum is too good to give up.
The story is based of the pseudo-autobiography of the young Hunter S. Thompson. By the time he was 20 Thompson had already been fired from numerous publication for his drinking and insubordination. Somehow, he then found his way to Puerto Rico where he was turned down for a job at the San Juan Star. He then wrote a sunnier version of his non-existent career in his non-published pseudo-autobiography the Rum Diary. How Johnny Depp found the manuscript, got it published, and adapted into a movie further proves that the world works in an inexplicably surreal manner.
In the film Paul Kemp, stands in for Thompson. Unlike Thompson Kemp gets a job reporting for San Juan Star. The offices of the Star would make the ones in Mad Men seem like an AA meeting; there is no ambition in this company except for who can concoct the strongest rum in the island and who can drink it faster. Sala’s (Michael Rispoli) rum is so strong that it allows Kemp to breathe fire after he drinks it. Strong stuff.
The Staff of the San Juan Star at Work
Kemp’s first reporting involves a new property development by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson has grown very rich by doing shady deals, and he confidently states that this, Puerto Rico, “is America”. Sanderson sees some talent in Kemp and hires him as a freelance writer that would put a good word for his new development. Kemp likes the money, the car, and Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), which he hopes all come included with the job. But as soon as he takes the job, Kemp appears to sober up. And he doesn’t seem to like what he sees without his rum goggles on.
The film itself is the perfect vehicle for Johnny Depp to show off his talents without being exploited ala Alice in Wonderland. Depp seems to be having fun creating this half-drunk, narcissistic, self-entitled savior of the people. It is, despite the rum drinking similarity to Captain Jack, his freshest performance in years. It will not garner any awards or nominations, but it is nevertheless highly enjoyable. Amber Heard should also be commended; she makes it believable that a gold-digger like Chennault would fall for a shady drunk like Kemp. Perhaps she is not willing to leave the diamond behind, but the thought of joining Kemp in his crusade is somewhat tempting.
The film itself seems to be fully seen through Kemps eyes; everything is an exaggeration filtered through rum and a few hallucinogens. Kemp might believe he changed the world, and so does the film. But we don’t. The real Hunter S. Thompson probably believed the same, but if it weren’t for this film he would have fallen into obscurity. And judging from this films box office ratings, it is likely Thompson never left obscurity in the first place.