The Rum Diary (Blu-ray)

February 8, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Johnny Depp is one strange man. Not in the sense that he’s scary, he’s just the epitome of the eccentric actor. And, you know what, he’s a darn good one (actor) to boot. He might have made more a name for himself over the last decade as the irreverent pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but he did actually have a career before that. One of the films that made him the man he is today was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which he played Raoul Duke and his journey across America. The movie was based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson who also penned The Rum Diary. This led to an off-screen friendship between Depp and Thompson which lasted until Thompson’s untimely death in 2005.

In The Rum Diary Depp plays another journalist Paul Kemp, down on his luck reporter who can’t seem to find work. In 1960, San Juan, Puerto Rico was a different place but the San Juan Star gave Kemp an opportunity. He’s a heavy drinker “On the high side of social…” he replies when asked if he drinks and is given some cut rate work. Almost immediately he falls in with Sala (Michael Rispoli), the resident photographer and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), a man so out of it that he doesn’t even realize he’s been fired from him job. Paul also comes across the trail of a shady American businessman, Sanderson (Aaron Echkart) who seems to be making money hand over fist. Sanderson enlists the help of Paul to help him build some more hotels. He’s compensated with a new car, some spending money but what Paul really wants is Sanderson’s girl, Chenault (Amber Heard). There’s a lot going on and in between a lot of rum.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I popped in The Rum Diary. I’m a fan of Depp’s and I loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but had heard mixed reviews about this movie. Certainly Depp has this character down pat and the backdrop of Puerto Rico circa 1960 was interesting as well. Still, the plot was a bit all over the place and having never read the novel, don’t really know how closely it adhered (not that it matters all too much). The scene-stealer is Giovanni Ribisi with his unrecognizable voice and personality. I love just about every movie he’s in and his addition to the cast was most welcome. While the masses might find Depp more entertaining in his more “family-friendly” role as Capt. Jack Sparrow, I do prefer his more eccentric works like this one or his role in Secret Window. The film is entertaining, though for me it’ll never replace Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Video: How does it look?

The opening sequence is a bit misleading in that we’re immediately greeted with crystal blue sky and water, an ivory hotel and a red airplane gliding through the air. The remainder of the film and its 1.85:1 AVC HD image, to me, looked dark. I mean really dark. A number of the scenes were shot indoors and at night so I could see why this might have taken on a darker tone, but even my wife (who watched some of the movie with me) said “Does this look a bit dark to you?” I agreed. Even some later scenes on the beach seemed to have an issue with contrast. I thought it might have been the settings on my TV, but after putting in a few other discs and checking some of the HD channels on my cable, everything seemed to look good. I have no idea if this was simply the way the movie was shot and maybe on any other day I wouldn’t have noticed, but this seemed a bit off to me.

Audio: How does it sound?

For the most part the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack isn’t that exciting, but there are a few moments in which it really takes charge. There’s a clap of thunder, a short car chase sequence and some bombs going off (in the background) that do engage the surrounds and LFE which adds a bit of life to the otherwise dialogue-driven track. Depp has the same type of voice he used in Fear and Loathing… in which he’s speaking in a Deep, mumbled tone. There’s a nice club sequence when they go to Carnivale that’s fairly engaging as well. This certainly isn’t the type of movie that I’d expect to be memorable, but I was a bit more pleased that I initially thought.

Supplements: What are the extras?

We don’t get a lot of supplements here, but there are two worth mentioning. First up is “A Voice Made of Ink and Rage: Inside ‘The Rum Diary'” which is an eleven minute featurette with some behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot. The more interesting feature is the 45 minute segment “The Rum Diary Back Story” which is an interview with Hunter S. Thompson. This was shot in 1998 at his home in Colorado as he gives us the low down on the book. The disc is BD-Live enabled as well.

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