The first good look at director Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of The Rum Diary, which has been eagerly anticipated by Hunter S Thompson devotees for a few years now, is finally upon us, with the release of the film’s first theatrical trailer this week (you can watch it below).
Thompson’s terrific book, penned in 1959 when he was twenty two years old, follows binge-drinking narrator Paul Kemp’s life as a journalist for the Sun Juan Daily News. It was published three decades after it was written and, like HST’s seminal gonzo screamer Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is considered a semi-autobiographical work.
Thompson wrote it some years before he drenched his existence in drugs and debauchery (but remained, incredibly, a brilliant and fearless cut-to-the-bone writer with one hell of a turn of phrase).
The Rum Diary is an assured and mature novel, a feat made more remarkable given Thompson’s young age at the time. The story splits tales of rum-soaked day-to-day newsroom grind with a love triangle sub-plot involving a beautiful woman (played by Amber Heard) and a violent drunkard (Aaron Eckhart). It’s also littered with moments of self-reflection and, characteristic of Thompson, ruminations on the craft of writing. Here’s one short paragraph:
“Happy,” I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words like Love, that I never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception—especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.
The film’s trailer is bouncy, fun, and makes it obvious that star Johnny Depp’s incarnation of Thompson/Kemp will embrace HST’s legendary wild-eyed OTW schtick. The problem is that on a tonal level Robinson’s film appears to be light years away from the book I just quoted (final judgement, of course, reserved for when I watch it).
The Rum Diary is not a bubbly fish-out-of-water tale of gals, booze and the beach. It is both eloquent and sharp, carefully balanced dramatically and on occasions tense and hard-hitting reading. This trailer provides HST fans both a reason to be excited — a new “must see” to add to their itinerary — and a reason to be concerned.