Jennifer Pitt

The Rum Diary, Based on the Novel by Hunter S. Thompson

Based on the novel The Rum Diary (1961), this movie starring Johnny Depp (Paul Kemp), Aaron Eckhart (Sanderson), & Amber Heard (Chenault), is the story of Paul Kemp’s journey to San Juan to work for a newspaper that is barely solvent, and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

For those who know my love for everything Thompson, you know how painful this is for me to write.

I just came from seeing The Rum Diary. And I have been sitting here for ten minutes looking at those two sentences trying to decide how to proceed.

I didn’t like it. I don’t think this is a movie Hunter would be proud of. Hunter and Johnny Depp shared a profound friendship, one that Hunter himself had written about many times, and one that Johnny alluded to in many an interview after Hunter died. Because of this relationship, Depp was cast in both of the main-stream movies made from Hunter’s books, and did an outstanding job portraying both Hunter as himself (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and Hunter as Kemp (The Rum Diary was work of fiction based in San Juan, where he spent time in the 1960′s).

There were so many unnecessary changes in the screenplay and script that, as an avid Hunter Thompson fan, I don’t think he would have approved of the result. In all his writings, Hunter was very much about literary honesty, at all costs. In the making of the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he was very adamant that nothing be changed – he allowed for a lot to be left out, but that nothing that was left in be changed in any way.

I am glad he didn’t have to see the mess that was made of The Rum Diary. No one, myself included, should ever profess to know Hunter’s true vision for this movie. He was very involved in the adaptation process prior to his death, but because of his ill health that involvement eventually became very limited. I can only comment on the many irrelevant differences between the book Hunter wrote and the movie that I just watched.

I am not on board with the omission of Yeamon as a character, and the insertion of Sanderson in his place. Sanderson already had an important part that could have easily been included (in the timeline of the novel) at a later time. There was little need to omit Yeamon to further the story (since the insertion of Bob Sala for was only for all of the parts that Yeamon was excised from), and Bob Sala should have remained what he was in the book – a background character.

There are amusing parts to this movie, and I am very aware that the only real reason I didn’t enjoy the movie is because I am so invested in Hunter Thompson’s books. As far as movies go, in itself The Rum Diary wasn’t awful; but it was very forgettable. I remember almost every scene and detail from the book, but from the movie I can only recall what was not included.

This was enough to make me dislike the movie. It opened to very mixed reviews; but then, so did Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which went on to be a hit. I know it’s difficult to translate words into pictures on a screen, so I have no problem allowing for artistic license in order to get the point across. The details that were changed could easily have stood on their own, and upheld the integrity of the story.

I am aware that not everyone will understand the references I am making. I am trying to be vague slightly on purpose, if only to spur you to read this book. Scratch that – read all of Hunter Thompson’s books.

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