'The Rum Diary' finds Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thomson pseudonym Paul Kemp, a freelance journalist from New York who travels to the dark heart of the Caribbean to work at dilapidated newspaper, The San Juan Star. Hired by hot-tempered editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), what he finds instead is a collection of sweat-drenched writers who survive solely on their alcoholic vices, and an island in turmoil, wracked with corruption, poverty and political upheaval.
This being a Hunter S. Thompson movie, we are treated to the usual suspects in the form of bizarre addiction-ravaged characters. These people are so twisted by their vices, that simple things like talking or functioning in daily life can lead to dangerously unexpected scenarios, including high speed pursuits, assault, and even imprisonment. One surprising but welcome addition to the cast of oddballs is Giovanni Ribisi, who never quite made it big after early promise in movies like 'Boiler Room'. Here, he plays Moberg, a writer so encumbered by his alcoholic and narcotic tendencies that he has almost stopped being human. Instead he seems an inky black spot on the film's print, twitching and shaking, while spouting venomous rants at put upon boss, Lotterman. Also of note is returning director Bruce Robinson, who was coaxed out of retirement by Depp following nearly two decades away from the director's chair. Thankfully, Robinson shows a deft hand at bringing Thompson's 'Gonzo' writing style to the screen, doing for the alcohol soaked 'Rum Diary', what Terry Gilliam did for the drug addled 'Fear and Loathing'. Depp, who also acting as producer here, clearly knows how to match Thompson's writing with the appropriate directing style. Where Gilliam brought his narcotics knowledge to the hallucinogenic neon of Las Vegas, Robinson brings his past endeavors with alcoholism, as well as adding a sharp comedic wit also used to great effect in his classic booze misadventure, 'Withnail and I'.