Rum Diary serves as star's farewell to an old friend
Depp’s second performance as iconic writer Hunter S. Thompson is entertaining, even if the film isn’t.
Published Nov. 4, 2011
Less than seven years after Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide, his memory lives on through his books, movies and iconic pop culture persona.
While the author might be known more for his drug-addled craziness, perfectly portrayed by Johnny Depp in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Thompson was one of the finest journalists of his generation. He invented his own type of writing, gonzo journalism, which combined narrative structure with modern journalism, and he spent much of the 1970s publicly ridiculing Richard Nixon and the plausibility of the American dream. This past weekend, Depp’s second performance as Thompson, "The Rum Diary," was released to mixed reviews and poor box office results.
Two actors have played Thompson: Bill Murray, who starred in the box office bomb "Where the Buffalo Roam"; and Depp, who played the legendary journalist in "Las Vegas," adopting Thompson’s eccentric mannerisms and bald spot.
When the movie was released in 1998, Depp was in his 30s, around the same age Thompson was in the book. In "The Rum Diary," Depp is playing a much younger Thompson, one who is just beginning to realize his journalism potential in 1960s Puerto Rico. The film never quite returns to the all-out insanity of "Las Vegas," and suffers because of it. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have inspired gonzo moments, but it never seems to accurately capture Thompson’s story. When "Las Vegas" was released, it also received mixed reviews and was a box office bomb. Over the years, though, the film has gotten better and better, with each hallucinatory image becoming more startling and Depp’s performance all the more amusing.
Both Depp and Murray reportedly built strong relationships with Thompson while researching their respective portrayals of him, and after each film's release, Thompson said he enjoyed their performances. While Thompson publicly derided "Where the Buffalo Roam" outside of Murray’s performance, in interviews he said he enjoyed "Las Vegas," due in large part to Depp’s performance.
It’s fitting that Depp’s performance in "Diary" will likely be the last time Thompson’s work is shown on screen. The two shared a powerful friendship in Thompson’s later years and since his death, Depp has openly praised Thompson and even sneaked mentions of the writer into some of his films. In his recent animated comedy, "Rango," Depp’s reptile character flies by a car with Thompson in it, echoing a similar scene from "Las Vegas."
The big difference, and in a sense the problem, between the two Thompson adaptions isn’t Depp — he’s great in both — but the director. Terry Gilliam directed "Las Vegas" with manic glee, subverting normal narrative storytelling in favor of alcohol, drugs and some truly bizarre imagery. Bruce Robinson’s direction in "Diary" pays ample homage to Thompson, but the film comes off as a glossed-over Hollywood version of what, in written form, was one of Thompson’s funnier books. By incorporating Thompson’s one-of-a-kind narrative into a slick, normal movie, the filmmakers might as well be chocolate cake and ketchup. The two just don’t go together.
The fact that "The Rum Diary" even got published is a miracle in itself. While doing research for "Vegas," Depp moved into Thompson’s home, hoping to accurately portray the man he admired so greatly. One day, Depp came across the manuscript for "Diary" and asked Thompson why it was never published. Later, Thompson reworked the book at Depp’s request. The novel would go on to be one of Thompson’s final published works.
Even if "Diary" comes off as a missed opportunity for Hollywood to show the craziness that was Thompson’s life, the film does allow Depp to give a final farewell to his friend in the best way possible by playing the man exactly as he was: crazy, investigative and, most of all, stone cold brilliant.blog comments powered by Disqus