Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bruce Robinson's film of Hunter S. Thompson's THE RUM DIARY

sweet Jesus, has it been five weeks?  six?  it feels like a lifetime...

Well, here's to it:

The Rum Diary - as "straight-forward" a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation as we're ever likely to see - which means it's damn good, and damn understands what the goddamn Hunter S. Thompson was getting at with his work as a whole, even as this is a sort of prequel to his life and work in general (see for example the introduction to LSD and the disgust at Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential debates on TV).  It may be a little hard not to compare it to Terry Gilliam's Fear & Loathing film from 1998, mostly as it's Thompson again given life by his Hollywood-alter-ego Johnny Depp (and oddly enough has not seemingly aged a day since then even as he's now in his late 40's, good God man what well did he drink from I want it!)  

But where Gilliam's film was a madcap, grotesque cartoon on the American dream, this takes a mostly more sobering approach, with Dariusz Wolski's cinematography giving Puerto Rico a pretty and pretty dirty look (as, one supposes, it should be) and Bruce Robinson being a wonderful director of actors (being once one and director of one of the great comedies about actors and those on the outside looking in, Withnail & I) it takes on a different shape altogether.  Obviously it will attract that group of fans as, frankly, I'm one of them.  I can report that this is a film that gives a lot of awesome respect for Thomspon's work (having, ironically, not read this book but most of his others it seems to capture a lot of his thematic concerns in general well enough too), and makes up its own risks as it goes along.  

It is, again I should stress, a more conventionally shot picture, shot-reverse-shot, not too much crazy lighting, only one very noticeably deranged special effect, which makes up one of the uproarious moments of the picture (hint: They give it to Communists!)  And yet there's some daring here and there, and some of my favorite moments of the year are in this picture.  

For example, Robinson takes the time amid the plot - which is mostly concerned with Depp's disillusioned journalist covering astrology bullshit at a local paper that's going under while tangled up with a shady businessman played by chin-dimple magnet Aaron Eckhardt - to take his sexy co-stars (Depp and Amber Heard) in a sexy red corvette on the road.  It's one of those dangerously erotic scenes where it's mostly about how the actors look at one another, and how they look at their bodies, and then the car speed goes up more, and more, and more... and then THERE'S A DOCK!  They screech to a halt, and the shot helicopters away from them into the ocean... and the shot doesn't stop at the point one expects it to.  And the two stars get out and look out at the ocean, feeling what exactly?  It's one of those moments in movies one goes to the movies for.  

PS: Giovanni Ribisi steals his scenes, which is absolutely stunning since I don't think I have come away feeling that in so many years of watching him in films.  He comes in much the same way Ralph Brown does in 'Withinail', as a grungy, wacked-out supporting character, but who will leave a damn-BIG impression (particularly in this case as he asks for venerial disease examinations in exchange for drugs and plays records of Hitler... you know, FOR FUN!)

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