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The Rum Diary(2011)
Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of the late Eisenhower-era United States, journalist Paul Kemp travels to the U.S. pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper, The San Juan Star, run by downtrodden editor Lotterman. Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes obsessed with Chenault, the wildly attractive Connecticut-born fiancé of Sanderson. Sanderson, a businessman involved in shady property development deals, is one of a growing number of U.S. entrepreneurs who are determined to convert Puerto Rico into a capitalist paradise in service of the wealthy.
For more about The Rum Diary and the The Rum Diary Blu-ray release, see the The Rum Diary Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 24, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins
Director: Bruce Robinson
» See full cast & crew
The Rum Diary Blu-ray Review
Captain Jack turns to Captain Morgan.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 24, 2012
I tend to avoid alcohol...when I can.
The liquor-soaked latest from Actor Johnny Depp is The Rum Diary, a tale of justice, lust, cock fighting, binge drinking, and drugs set in mid-20th century Puerto Rico. Based on the long-unpublished novel by acclaimed Author Hunter S. Thompson -- the writer of the original story behind another of Depp's most prestigious pictures, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- The Rum Diary is a film of two halves, one a fun little piece following the life and times of a wet writer, the second a bit more of a straightforward Drama that sees the film lose the luster of its liquored first half. Depp, long a fan of Thompson's work (the picture is dedicated to the late writer) and a driving force behind getting the story made into a film almost since its 1998 publication, has finally brought the story to the screen, though the results aren't quite lucid. Sadly, the movie plays like many of its characters live: with some direction, but not a lot of clarity. It has its moments of fun in the sun, offers up some intriguing characters, and dabbles in some semblance of a cohesive, coherent plot, but a lackluster second half plays like a bad hangover that makes all of the first half's fun pretty much forgotten by film's end.
Perpetually drunken journalist and wannabe novelist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) has moved on from the mainland United States to the happening Puerto Rican city of San Juan to write for the local paper. It's a two-bit job that nobody wants; Kemp is the only applicant and is hired by Editor-in-Chief Edward J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), even as he sees straight through Kemp, realizing he's a drunkard from the get-go. He works with a collection of oddball characters, including staff photographer and part-time cock fighter Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) and the liquor- and drug-devastated Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi) who's so perpetually wasted that he's more of a nuisance than anything else. Kemp is stuck covering go-nowhere stories and penning horoscopes, at least until he meets a local aristocrat named Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who asks of Kemp to write favorable stories surrounding a proposed land/hotel deal he's working on the side. Meanwhile, Kemp's eyes drift to Sanderson's sexy girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) who may cloud his judgement even more than every cumulative drop of rum.
The Rum Diary's deliciously fun first half that focuses on the dichotomy that is a professional drunkard and professional journalist pouring his way around horoscopes, bowling alleys, and the politics of a small-time news outfit is when the film is at its peak. However, it's when the misadventures of said boozing journalist, his bumbling roommate, and a perpetually-wasted and off-the-deep-end-friend and "colleague" morph into a battle over land development with the city's wealthiest upper-crust, private beach-owning bigwig elites and the story becomes something akin to "rum versus the 1%" does it lose its pacing and appeal. The film's hazy first half is an asset; its meandering and structural shortcomings only add to the appeal, but with a rise in drama and tension comes a further absence of focus and clarity, not a tightening of style or story. The second half is where the film's primary conflict rages. That story is competently assembled and filmed, but the way it plays -- it is, in a way, both contrasted against the appeal of but also in stylistic harmony with the first half -- serves only to frustrate the audience and interfere with the picture's better assets. Rather than take the movie to a logical and necessary end, The Rum Diary's central conflict seems only tacked on to give the movie a direction, but in this case "direction" seems to only lose the movie rather than take it anywhere it truly needs to go.
On the flip side, the performances are exceptional throughout, the real saving graces of The Rum Diary. Johnny Depp does what Johnny Depp does best, which is to completely immerse himself into character. He's got the half-drunk, half-lost, but not half-witted reporter thing down to a science. He embodies the prototypical go-nowhere writer of a bygone era with almost uncanny believability. He plays a perpetually drunk, but not completely vapid, individual with some ambition but little direction so well that he nearly becomes unidentifiable in the part, leaving behind all of the Johnny Depp persona and truly transforming into a prototypical drunkard who's not quite yet lost all of his marbles. That character is brilliantly portrayed by Giovanni Ribisi, who not only has the look of a man completely overtaken by substance, but also the verbal and physical cadence of such an individual, too. The complete absence of coherence, the removal of all semblance of normalcy, the almost total loss of cognition is both comical and frightening; Ribisi's character's turn for the worse sees the movie at its best, balancing out the more coherent drunkard that is Kemp and making him look almost as if on the straight and narrow in every scene they share. Amber Heard is good but largely wasted in a role that's little more than eye candy, while on-screen beau Aaron Eckhart plays another kind of two-face, here the slick, polished, and friendly moneyman on one side and a devious developer on the other, a rather bland adversary in a movie that might had been better without one that's not poured from a bottle or made of the spirits therein.
The Rum Diary Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Rum Diary's Blu-ray release is handsome. The 1080p, 1.85:-1-framed image is sourced from the native Super 16 film element, which yields steady details and a beautiful film-like texture. Moderate grain is visible throughout, which serves to enhance details in faces and clothing. The image is crisp, not razor-sharp, but consistently natural in structure. Brighter exteriors and darker interiors alike come alive with accurate, steady details and textures that suit the movie well. Colors often favor a slightly dimmed appearance, but red planes and cars, bright blue skies, dark blue waters, and island clothes are all nicely presented. Black levels are strong, and flesh tones are balanced. The image is free of intrusive banding, blocking, or wear. While The Rum Diary won't pass as brilliant eye candy, Sony's transfer is gorgeous and always representative of a good, innate filmic appearance that reflects the picture's natural elements nicely.
The Rum Diary Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Rum Diary features a polished and precise DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Music plays with superb spacing and fine body throughout, even at a club scene in chapter eleven where music spills into the listening area with a slightly muddled texture that represents the moment nicely and differs from crisper overlaying score. Ambience is a great strength; the picture naturally immerses its listener into every environment, whether it plays with the mechanical printing presses at the newspaper headquarters, the general clatter of ringing telephones and typewriter keystrokes in the office, the din of an outdoor protest march, or even the sound of booming explosions and whizzing artillery shells that zoom across the soundstage in chapter ten. Oceanfront waves all but soak the listening area, so naturally smooth they sound. Dialogue is consistently strong and plays naturally from the center speaker. The Rum Diary doesn't exactly scream out "awesome audio," but that's exactly what Sony's latest delivers. This one is great from top to bottom.
The Rum Diary Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Rum Diary contains a general featurette and a quality retrospective piece that looks at the novel's development to screen.
The Rum Diary Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Rum Diary is a scattered picture with an appealing first half and a meandering, detached second. The film never really comes to cohesion, which is an asset in a movie metaphorically drenched in liquor, but when it tries to build up a rather bland story about a drunken hero versus a sober tycoon, it loses its charm but doesn't ditch its hazy, unkempt structure that only undermines, rather than supports, whatever it's trying to accomplish. It's a shame, really, because the first half is downright superb -- entertaining, funny, engaging, and playing around with some great characters -- but it's only when it tries to make something of itself does it show that, in this case, aimlessness might have actually been the path towards the higher road. Sony's Blu-ray release of The Rum Diary does feature strong video and audio to go along with a couple of extras. Worth a rental.
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The Rum Diary Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Rum Diary Blu-ray - December 19, 2011
Next year, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will bring The Rum Diary to Blu-ray. Directed by Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I), this adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's early novel stars Johnny Depp (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) as a debauched journalist working ...
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