For a few years before he put the gun up to his head, Hunter Thompson wrote for ESPN's Page 2. "Hey Rube" was a sports column, at least in name. But Hunter, never one to be tied down, used the space for everything from precient political discusions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to the very earliest rumblings of turning his first novel, The Rum Diary, into a film.
At the time there was talk about Josh Hartnett playing a part, perhaps Paul Kemp, the Hunter-like protagonist. Johnny Depp, if I remember correctly, was in those discussions too. Thankfully, as tastes moved on and Hartnett fell off the map of bankable stars, Depp became the leading man. It's only fitting, really—after shadowing Hunter in preparation for Terry Gilliam's tremendous adaptation of Fear and Loathing, Depp and his fellow Kentuckian became close friends. They bought guns together. Hunter took to calling him "Colonel Depp." And when Hunter passed, Depp bankrolled the celebration, including the Gonzo fist canon that launched and exploded Hunter's ashes over the sprawling green hills of his home in Woody Creek, Co. In the years since, Depp has marched on as a keeper of the Gonzo flame. And ever since he picked up those strange, twisted, stumbling rhythms for "Fear and Loathing," Depp has held them tightly. I swear there's a piece of the Hunter-character woven into the dandy Jack Sparrow.
So indeed fitting that Depp is onboard for "The Rum Diary." Soothing, actually. The trailer was just released:
As is so often the case in promotion, especially of smaller, less-bombastic films, trailers fail to represent the tonal realities of the films they seek to sell. Or at least, that's the hope. On paper, "The Rum Diary" is not even remotely the thriller as it is portrayed here. The book is sometimes found in the Travel section. Like "Fear and Loathing," it's more of a mood piece, based on observation and internal monologue—it's a feeling, a state of mind. But a little more digging put my purist tendencies at ease.
"The Rum Diary" was adapted and directed by Bruce Robinson, responsible for tremendous forays into substance abuse, depravity and downward spiral in "Withnail & I" and one of my all-time favorite hallucinogenic meditations on consumerism, "How to Get Ahead in Advertising." (Seriously, if you haven't seen it, go now. Richard E. Grant's meltdown is one of the greatest ever put to film.)
To get into the spirit of The Rum Diary, Robinson went as far as to jettison six-odd years of sobriety. From a terrific profile in the Independent:
When he began the screenplay for The Rum Diary, Robinson says, "I was struggling for the piquancy I believe I'd found in Withnail. I was sitting in front of the typewriter with six-and-a-half years of sobriety under my belt. And because of that title—The Rum Diary—the creative side of me is saying: 'GO THERE.' The AA side is saying: 'DON'T.' The result was that I couldn't write a fucking line. Nothing, nothing, nothing."
In desperation, he explains, "I said to Sophie, 'I can't get there. Maybe—this may be the deviousness of alcohol, but... maybe I can't write this unless I have some wine.' And, God bless her, she said, 'Well, you'll have to have some then.' I wrote the script pretty quickly after that. But I stuck to wine as a medicine. I drank a bottle a day. When I finished the script, I went back to total sobriety."
Indeed, "The Rum Diary" seems to be in the right hands. Hot damn.