It’s been a while since The Rum Diary hit audiences, but it should come as no surprise that Addam and I were at the theater on opening night. Unfortunately as excited, and as nervous, as I was to see Hunter S. Thompson’s first published work on film, I found the movie very disappointing.
After work I biked over to South Beach, where I met with Addam. We had about three hours to kill, so we had a couple of drinks by the beach and shared a meal at a nearby hookah bar before making our way to the theater.
The theater was HUGE, and so were the advertisements. The show was practically sold out, so Addam and I had to sit separately. As frustrating as it was to have to watch the movie alone, at that point nothing could get to me. I first read the book as a freshman in college and had been patiently waiting for the movie for about six years.
That being said, I could write a book on the differences between the novel and the film. Of course, on second thought, I guess Thompson already did…
My biggest qualms include:
Yeamon, a privotal character in Thompson’s novel, was noticeably absent from the film. I expected this going in, as I did not see his name listed on IMDb or any other film site, but, despite knowing better, I held out hope.
While I know that writers frequently omit characters when adapting stories for the screen, I found it completely unacceptable that Yeamon was not included in the film. Writers tried to combine his character with Sanderson’s — which any fan will tell you is absolutely ridiculous considering both the plot and the dramatic differences between the two men.
Paul Kemp, the book’s narrator, meets Yeamon on his first day on the job at the San Juan Star, and the two quickly enter into a series of mishaps. There is a scene in which Kemp, Yeamon and Sala, the paper’s photographer, end up in jail following a bar fight. The fight begins when Yeamon refuses to pay his tab and ends when Sanderson bails the boys out. Completely impossible given the set up of the movie.
Yeamon was unruly and rough around the edges; Sanderson was San Juan’s fresh-faced PR man. Trying to turn the two into one was the film’s greatest flaw. I was distracted the entire time.
2. The Ending
I wasn’t going to post spoilers, but I owe it to Hunter. Screenwriters took his ending, chewed it up and spit it out at well-intentioned audiences. If you plan on seeing the movie — don’t. If you plan on reading the book, come back to this post once you finish to hear about the monstrosity. Otherwise — just read on.
At the end of Thompson’s novel the San Juan Star closes after Lotterman, the paper’s publisher, bails with employee paychecks. Upon returning to an empty building, Kemp, Morberg, Schwartz and Yeamon show up at an event Lotterman is attending, and Yeamon beats the beast until he suffers a heart attack and dies. Kemp helps Yeamon flee and plans to leave for New York shortly after.
Since there was not a Yeamon, it was relatively impossible for the film to follow the book. Unfortunately, writers moved in an entirely different direction. While the paper still closes, Lotterman gets off scot-free! Reviewers are calling the film “the movie without an ending,” and I can see why. It closes with scene of Kemp and Sala losing their minds on a hallucinogen. Viewers never find out what happens to either character and, to be completely honest, probably weren’t invested enough to care.
3. The Tone
Why, why, why did producers insist on making this film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: The Prequel? Thompson wrote this book when he was 22, and while I’m sure the guy knew how to party — he was not the person he was later in life. While loosely-based on some of the stories and experiences he picked up in Puerto Rico, it was not meant to be an autobiography.
There is a lot of alcohol in The Rum Diary, but let me assure you that there are no drugs, there are no hallucinations and there certainly aren’t any cock fights. The book is an account of a couple working stiffs trying to keep their business together long enough to make a little money and have a little fun. As much as I love and appreciate Johnny Depp, he played a dulled-down version of the part he perfected in 1998 and probably didn’t have much of a choice. Viewers who love a good time and scoff at a good book expected insanity, and you don’t disappoint audiences. Right?
Despite my disdain for the film, the last frame was a dedication to Thompson, and I had to clap for my man. I was the only one who did, so I’m assuming the audience was full of either posers or disappointed fans. Possibly a combination of the two.
Before heading home Addam and I stopped some crazy kids on their way to a Halloween party for a quick photo and small chat. I complained about the movie for most of the conversation and for most of the bike ride home but held out hope that I’d like it more after I slept on it. It’s been settling for about two weeks now, and I can’t say that I’m any more impressed. As much as I hate to discourage someone from seeing both a H.S.T. and Johnny Depp film — I can’t say that I’d recommend The Rum Diary to anyone. If Hunter Thompson had a grave, he’d be rolling in it.
My advice — READ THE BOOK.
“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 Rum Diary, Hunter S. Thompson, author and journalist (July 18, 1937-Feb. 20, 2005).