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The Rum Diary Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Archived Reviews' started by Richard Gallagher, Feb 5, 2012.

  1. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    The Rum Diary, based upon the novel by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, begins promisingly and is gorgeous to look at. Unfortunately, the film begins to meander around the halfway point, where it loses focus and then takes too long to arrive at an unsatisfying conclusion. This is disappointing because it boasts an excellent cast and high production values which include on-location filming in Puerto Rico.
     



    The Rum Diary

    Studio: Sony
    Year: 2011
    Rated: R
    Program Length: 120 minutes                         
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
    Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
    Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

    The Program

    The Rum Diary, based upon the novel by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, begins promisingly and is gorgeous to look at. Unfortunately, the film begins to meander around the halfway point, where it loses focus and then takes too long to arrive at an unsatisfying conclusion. This is disappointing because it boasts an excellent cast and high production values which include beautiful on-location filming in Puerto Rico.

    The film opens in San Juan in 1960. Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), a struggling unpublished novelist, wakes up in the Xanadu Hotel with a hangover. He arrived from New York the day before to take a job as a reporter for the English-language newspaper, the San Juan Star. On his first day at the paper he is interviewed by the cantankerous editor, E.J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), who makes it clear that the Star has fallen on hard times and he needs a reporter who will spice up the news with some enthusiasm. He also warns Kemp that he expects him to maintain a certain degree of sobriety. Kemp also meets and befriends Sala (Michael Rispoli), the staff photographer who shows him the ropes. Sala tells Kemp about Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi), the paper's Crime and Religious Affairs correspondent who drinks so much that "the entire substructure of his brain is eaten away with rum."

    While familiarizing himself with the archives of the Star, Kemp is approached by Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhardt), a former employee of the Star who is now a public relations consultant. Sala explains that Sanderson is working for people who are buying up prime land in Puerto Rico and selling it to investors in the mainland United States. Later Kemp has an encounter with Sanderson's girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard) and he immediately falls for her. It turns out Sanderson is interested in Kemp because he and his investors could use a newspaperman who can write stories which will promote their interests. The reporter, who thus far has been stuck with writing horoscopes and stories about bowling alleys, is interested when Sanderson proposes to put him on the payroll. During a visit to Sanderson's oceanfront house, Kemp learns that the pristine beaches are off limits to native Puerto Ricans because they have become the private property of wealthy landowners. Kemp is offended by this and wants to write about it, but editor Lotterman fears that such stories will offend the paper's advertisers. This is just one example of The Rum Diary raising an interesting and controversial topic but ultimately going nowhere with it.

    There are several funny scenes which had me laughing out loud, particularly one involving what happens to Sala's car after an unpleasant encounter with some locals. Johnny Depp does his usual fine job as Kemp, Aaron Eckhardt exudes superiority and self-importance as Sanderson, and Amber Heard turns in a very sexy performance as Chenault. However, the bottom line is that The Rum Diary contains a number of good parts which do not add up to very much. Animal activists may not be pleased to see a couple of scenes involving cockfighting, but the film's credits assure us that all of the action was monitored by the American Humane Association.

    The Video

    This is another outstanding Blu-ray presentation from Sony. The 1.85:1 1080p image is sharp and detailed, featuring vivid and accurate colors. Black levels are solid and shadow detail is fine. There are some outstanding aerial shots of Puerto Rico, and the location filming on the ground adds to the film's authenticity. The image appears to be accurately framed and there is no evidence of excessive DNR or other annoying digital manipulation. An appropriate level of film grain contributes to a satisfying, film-like viewing experience.

    The Audio

    The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is excellent. The Rum Diary has a very evocative musical soundtrack which sounds terrific. One odd choice is the inclusion of the song "Telstar," a catchy instrumental hit by The Tornados which was recorded in 1962, two years after the events in the film take place. The dialogue is clear and understandable, and the surround channels effectively convey sound effects and ambience.

    The Supplements

    The Blu-ray disc of The Rum Diary contains only a couple of supplements. Fans of Hunter S. Thompson will appreciate a 46-minute, standard definition documentary, "The Rum Diary Back-Story." It was filmed at Thompson's home in Colorado and at Johnny Depp's home in Los Angeles, and it looks like it was mastered from a VHS tape. Although its audio/video quality leaves a lot to be desired, it is a fascinating look at Thompson. He wrote the novel in 1959, but the manuscript basically collected dust for nearly 40 years before he was convinced by whip it into shape for publication. Depp, who had developed a close friendship with Thompson, was involved from the beginning and intended to make the film even before the book was published. However, production problems delayed the project for more than a decade and Thompson did not live to see it completed.

    "A Voice Made of Ink and Rage: Inside the Rum Diary" is a 13-minute featurette which gives the principal members of the cast an opportunity to discuss their roles.

    Sony also has included trailers for London Boulevard; In the Land of Blood & Honey; Drive; Tonight You're Mine; and Retreat.

    The Packaging

    The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

    The Final Analysis

    The Rum Diary is a well-made disappointment, but it has some worthwhile segments which will make it an attractive rental for fans of Johnny Depp.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
    Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
    Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
    BIC Acoustech speakers
    Interconnects: Monster Cable

    Release Date: February 14, 2012
     

     

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