Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - JAKE COYLE

rides again

IF Bat­man and the X- Men get pre­quels, why not jour­nal­ist Hunter S. Thompson?

He was cer­tainly a su­per­hero of a kind, just one whose pow­ers mainly con­sisted of con­sum­ing co­pi­ous amounts of al­co­hol while still, some­how, churn­ing out wildly colour­ful, rag­ing sto­ries from the road.

The Rum Diary is based on Thompson’s heav­ily au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel by the same name, which he wrote as a 22- year- old in the 1960s af­ter a stint as a news­pa­per re­porter in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It wasn’t pub­lished un­til 1998. Since then, Thompson’s friend Johnny Depp ( who also played Thompson in 1998’ s Fear and Loathing in Las Ve­gas ) has been try­ing to adapt The Rum Diary to the screen.

The Rum Diary, which is ded­i­cated to Thompson who died in 2005, is es­sen­tially a por­trait of the Duke as a young jour­nal­ist.

The stand- in for Thompson, the young novelist- re­porter Paul Kemp ( Depp, pic­tured), is try­ing to find his way and his writ­ing voice: It’s the birth of Gonzo, a style of jour­nal­ism that is writ­ten with­out ob­jec­tiv­ity.

Crim­i­nally ex­ag­ger­ated re­sume in hand, Kemp has gone to Puerto Rico to try his hand

as a re­porter.

He lands a job at the San Juan Star, whose ed­i­tor- in- chief, Lot­ter­man ( Richard Jenk­ins), is at his wit’s end run­ning a fail­ing, di­min­ish­ing daily.

As he in­ter­views a hun­gover Kemp, he quizzes him on what kind of drinker he is, to which Kemp dead­pans that he’s at ‘‘ the up­per end of so­cial’’.

Kemp is be­friended by staff pho­tog­ra­pher Sala ( Michael Ris­poli), a burly, ge­nial news­man who is nev­er­the­less not once seen with a cam­era in hand.

Kemp moves into Sala’s di­lap­i­dated dump of an apart­ment, which he shares with crime re­porter Moberg ( Giovanni Ribisi), a hoarse- voiced, over- drugged odd­ity who lis­tens to Hitler broad­casts and sets some kind of record for caus­tic re­porter- ed­i­tor re­la­tions.

Kemp catches the at­ten­tion of Amer­i­can businessman San­der­son ( Aaron Eck­hart), a smooth ma­nip­u­la­tor who is try­ing to push through an enor­mous de­vel­op­ment of a nearby, pris­tine is­land that’s push­ing lo­cals out in favour of Amer­i­can in­vestors.

San­der­son re­cruits Kemp to spin the de­vel­op­ment favourably in the Star.

This picture of Amer­i­can cor­rup­tion of Puerto Rico is one of the more com­pelling as­pects of The Rum Diary.

A com­bat­ive at­mos­phere be­tween poor lo­cals and rich Amer­i­cans hangs in the air, as do the navy’s bomb­ing tests on the nearby is­land of Vieques. Depp is again in the Caribbean among pi­rates.

San­der­son’s slick, wealthy ap­peal is tempt­ing to Kemp, who isn’t find­ing the con­strict­ing Star to be an es­pe­cially no­ble pur­suit, ei­ther.

Even more al­lur­ing is San­der­son’s beau­ti­ful fi­ancee Chenault, played by Am­ber Heard.

Kemp im­me­di­ately falls for her (‘‘ Oh, God, why did she have to hap­pen?’’ he mut­ters af­ter meet­ing her) and it’s no won­der: Heard is a stun­ning pres­ence.

This builds slowly for Kemp into a moral cri­sis and, fi­nally, an artis­tic tip­ping- point.

‘‘ I don’t know how to write like me,’’ he says.

But by the end of the film, Kemp/ Thompson has found his legs. The guid­ing prin­ci­ple is a fu­ri­ous dis­trust of au­thor­ity, and a key in­gre­di­ent is hal­lu­cino­gens.

You might ex­pect a trib­ute such as this to be syco­phan­tic but di­rec­tor Bruce Robin­son ( fa­mous for the bril­liant cult film

With­nail & I ) keeps a re­al­is­tic tone. Robin­son, who also wrote the

By the end of the film Thompson has found his legs. The guid­ing prin­ci­ple is a fu­ri­ous dis­trust of au­thor­ity, and a key in­gre­di­ent is hal­lu­cino­gens

screen­play, does not present the car­toon­ish Thompson we have come to ex­pect. It is a re­fresh­ing, grounded view.

Depp’s low- key per­for­mance as a Thompson al­ter- ego feels truer than the manic de­range­ment of Fear and Loathing but the role is also lack­ing real en­ergy. Thompson went on to find his voice but

The Rum Diary, en­ter­tain­ing and wellintended, is just shy of dis­cov­er­ing its own.

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