the mini REVIEW: The Rum Diary and We Need to Talk about Kevin

The Rum Diary

Hunter S. Thompson’s second book, The Rum Diary, is an autobiographical novel written when he was 22 and after working as a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the early 1960s, however it was only published in 1998. The celebrated cult author was famously immortalised in another adaptation of his book (notably by Johnny Depp) Fear and in Loathing in Las Vegas where his manner was exposed to be seen as consuming copious amounts of alcohol and taking drugs.

The Story: spoilers  occur

After blagging a job (whilst hungover!) at the San Juan Star, a desolate paper with a team of  equally doomed writers, Kemp is befriended by the paper’s photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and subsequently moves in to his apartment, which he also shares with crime-reporter and slightly unhinged drug addled Moberg (fantastic Giovanni Ribisi).

When its clear from the erratic editor-in-chief (brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins) that the Star is diminishing Kemp’s attention is wavered by a suave American businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his beautiful fiancée Chenault (Amber Heard). He falls for her immediately – not hard to see why, Heard is ridiculously beautiful – and sets the course for a love triangle that will only end badly for one of the involved. Sanderson is desperate to develop on the island by kicking the locals out and bringing the American money in, so he hires Kemp to follow the story in the paper. With all the temptations of the good life and a chance to be closer to the sensuous Chenault, he obliges, sensing that the paper is probably not going to hand him anything better to do anyway. Fleeting close encounters between Chenault and Kemp tease during the course of the film, as does key traits of the author Thompson that we have all come to know. He curses Nixon in one scene and starts to voice his abhorrence for authority towards the end. LSD, provided by his ranting flatmate Moberg, perhaps highlights Thompson’s first dalliance with the drug that would aid his writing during his peak.

The corrupt American hold over the paradise island is prevalent throughout the film, as is Sanderson’s possessiveness over Chenault however both are loath to be caged any longer. The tensions between the locals and the rich American foreigners comes to boiling point around the same time Chenault refuses to follow Sanderson out of a club, favouring to grind with the local men instead. This builds slowly for Kemp into a moral crisis and, finally, an artistic tipping-point:”I don’t know how to write like me,” but by the end of the film, it’s clear that Kemp/Thompson has found his legs. Expectedly his style is fuelled by a disregard for authority and an introduction to drugs.

I expected, like everyone else,  for this film to be obsequious, championing martyrdom for Thompson but forget the over-the-top version of Thompson we all know, this adaptation which isn’t a biopic  but certainly represents a version of the cult author, is a refreshing, realistic view of the writer. Thompson’s close relationship with Depp probably rendered him the best person to step in to his shoes once again. He does and adequate job, actually he’s very good – I like him more when he’s not being forced to take centre stage despite him being the lead. The supporting cast is for once just as interesting to watch if not better.  Ribisi is brilliant as the crime reporting housemate who listens to Hitler records and survives on hallucinogens and paranoia. Eckhart is favourable as the bad guy and actually steals a few of the best lines and scenes from Depp in his white linen ensemble and hollywood smile. However the chemistry between Amber Heard and Depp is exciting. Probably what they were looking for in The Tourist when he paired up with equal box office heavyweight, Angelina Jolie. Heard brings a sensuality so hot its understandable why he murmurs “why did she have to happen” upon meeting her. Yet in some scenes she offers a deeper more capable side to the role reminiscent of the beautiful but damned Pfeiffer in Scarface.  When this film was released it wasn’t received with the accolade one may expect from post Vegas Depp – however I don’t think commercial success is the focal point. Depp is  known for using his star power to get smaller commercial movies made.  The Rum Diary is a cult film adapted from a cult book by a cult author and directed by a cult director . Like Fear and Loathing and… Grease, movies like this will find an audience over time who may celebrate it in years to come.


Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly

Lionel Shriver’s 2003 bestseller takes narration in the form of  a series of unreturned letters from an emotionally withdrawn woman to her estranged husband about their deranged son Kevin.  Whew. If , like me, you haven’t read the novel once on everyone’s lips , you’ll probably have heard about the film’s premise:  the story fixes on a high school massacre carried out by a sociopathic 15-year-old boy, giving us snapshots of life leading up to and after the incident from the mothers point of view.

The Story: spoilers

Successful travel writer, Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton), is not a mother type. When her son is born she can hardly disguise her inability to cope with the responsibilities and attention the role demands. In one scene she takes to the streets and stands aside road jack-hammer’s with the baby in a vain attempt to drown out his screams and continuous warning signs that Eva and Kevin have missed the boat on mother and newborn bonding flag throughout the film.

Ezra Miller offers a grim humorous take on the title character which is unnerving but impossible to look away from. His taunting scenes with Swinton are eerie. Their similar long ethereal physiques and cold stoic deliveries in the many face-offs they have is a treat to watch. He really could be her son, and she his mother. John C. Reilly, is another story. He’s a good actor. Competent and perhaps more versatile than people would realise, however his presence is odd. Visually this film is near perfect, changing from a structured stylistic documentation in to less attractive observational one where the story becomes the only important feature. The core of the film isn’t to learn if the child was born bad – or the product of an unconventional (but still plausible) parenting – but to tell the horrible story through the eyes of a mother who is almost equally as stoic and passive towards social adaptability. Swinton is predictably brilliant. Though this role allows her to show a level of vulnerability otherwise less exposed in previous roles, and should help win Best Actress Oscar nomination.


One thought on “the mini REVIEW: The Rum Diary and We Need to Talk about Kevin

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