A toast to 'Rum'
First things first: "The Rum Diary" is an elegy to Hunter S. Thompson, famous and infamous for "gonzo journalism," a style of reporting known for its subjectivity, using the first person, while believing that, as William Faulkner once said, "Fiction is often the best fact."
Thompson wrote "The Rum Diary" sometime in the '60s, but it wasn't published until 1989, when he became well-known, his book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" a huge hit, later a film, and his go-for-broke life was known to be awash in drugs, booze and take-it-to-the-edge-of-the-cliff-and-then-jump-off reasoning.
It was Thompson who wrote, "Some days are two sizes too small." This was said by Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp as Hunter S., not long after Kemp arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the early '60s. Seriously hungover, staying in a local hotel, his life skills questionable, Kemp is in town to take a job at the San Juan Star, a teetering newspaper, where he's hired to write the daily horoscope and human-interest pieces about bowlers from the mainland.
Know that Thompson and Depp were very close friends for decades (Thompson committed suicide in 2005). And it was Depp who clearly saw "The Rum Diary" as part of a final farewell.
The film was shot in 16mm using the warm tropical light of San Juan, giving it a rich glow and soft patina of diffused colors. And though the narrative is episodic, the film holds together nicely. As it turns out, however, there is not a great deal at stake. There is a love interest, of sorts — a stunning Amber Heard as Chenault, the girlfriend of a corrupt developer, Sanderson, portrayed by Aaron Eckhart.
Everyone, as it turns out, is well-acquainted with sweat-stained decadence, all delivered in a warmhearted way. "The Rum Diary" is not "The Hangover." It's not a frat party in San Juan, nor is it cynical or gratuitous. There is no hard edge to this film; rather, it's dominated by a surprising affection, shared by a dissolute band of brothers practicing journalism, such as it is, all committed to keeping the San Juan Star afloat.
There's Michael Rispoli as Sala, the paper's photographer. Rispoli is a journeyman character actor and always exceptional, as is the superb Richard Jenkins in the role of Lotterman, the paper's editor. Giovanni Ribisi nails his character, Moburg, the religion reporter whose brain has long ago been pickled by rum so strong that no one is permitted to smoke in his presence. And not to forget Depp, who delivers a restrained and subtle performance, joining a top-drawer ensemble.
"The Rum Diary" is a film of mood and ambiance, and it's consistently generous to Thompson. And if viewed in that spirit, it's easy to like.
Time, ultimately, is all we have. It is the true currency of life. This is the unique and compelling theme of the just-released science-fiction film, "In Time."
The setting is a dystopian world where humans are programmed to die at the end of their 25th year. All have a day-glo green digital clock embedded in their arms, one that begins ticking off the seconds and minutes and hours of their final year — unless they can find more time to add to their clocks.
At work, they are paid with time and for everything else they pay with time. Plus, their time can be stolen from them. Time is money.
Enter Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), 28, factory worker, living with his mother in a "have-nots" ghetto. He spends every day scrambling to find extra hours to avoid clocking out, meaning falling dead where he stands.
By chance, he saves the life of a man who transfers to him 100 years. Suddenly, life takes a strange turn for Will.
Will visits New Greenwich, a ghetto of "haves," awash in time. There he meets Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of a time industrialist, and that's when things get dicey. The clock is ticking. With every minute, Will and Sylvia find themselves in jeopardy; the urgency is palpable.
What science-fiction can do, when done well, is ask the audience to imagine society in a new and interesting way. "In Time" does that and more. Time is linked intimately to our mortality, and there is no escape.
This film causes us to think about that truth long after the film clocks out.