There’s a good chance you’ve heard about the ongoing court case between superstars Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and that TikTok or YouTube have been constantly reminding you of it. Both actors are currently spending their days in a Virginia courtroom since Depp sued Heard for defamation following her 2018 opinion piece in the Washington Post where she declared herself of a victim of domestic abuse (without naming Depp in her article). As we know, Depp has been fighting for his career since his divorce from her and there is suspicion that this ‘op-ed’ was the cause of his downfall.
As the verdict of said trial is still unknown, some of you are probably wondering when and where Johnny and Amber actually met during their career in Hollywood. I invite you to travel back to 2010 with me, where both were working on the set of the underrated movie The Rum Diary, directed by Bruce Robinson and produced by Depp. This is a movie I saw in theatres back in 2011 when it first came out…in an auditorium that was completely empty. Worth the watch? Should you be curious? I am choosing to support this movie and say ‘yes’, this is an interesting pick to put on your watchlist. Here’s why.
Johnny Depp as a ‘Gonzo’ Journalist
First of all, The Rum Diary is actually an adaption of a novel by renowned journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, who is believed to be the father of ‘gonzo’ journalism and counterculture in American media in the 1970s. ‘Gonzo’ journalism refers to the reporter’s writing decision to be less objective in how they report the news, so that they can be the center of the piece, writing in the first person and using their own emotions to tell the story. Johnny Depp is known to be a huge fan of Thompson’s work, as he already helped in adapting his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to the big screen and Depp even hosted a special ceremony after the author’s passing in 2005 by blasting his ashes with a canon. Fair to say, this was a passion project for Johnny, so he decided to go on the hunt for a director and a crew to adapt another of Thompson’s stories: The Rum Diary.
‘The Rum Diary’ Story
Based on (or inspired by?) the life of Hunter S. Thompson in the 1960s, The Rum Diary follows the journey of failing author, journalist and part-time alcoholic Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), who decides to accept a position at an American newspaper in Puerto Rico as a reporter. Politically and socially unstable at the time as a territory affiliated with the United States, Kemp will be mandated by his editor (Richard Jenkins) to report ‘feel good’ news to the American tourists getting fat on booze and food during their holidays, including horoscope columns and bowling results. Paul rooms with the paper’s photojournalist Sala (Michael Rispoli), an aging and equally alcoholic reporter, in a rundown flat in San Juan. During his stay, he’ll meet Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a wealthy American entrepreneur and PR expert, who decides to hire Paul to support a group of suspicious investors who plan to buy an island near the capital and build a hotel resort (tax-free of course). As for Sanderson’s girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), she is taking an interest in Paul behind her fiance’s back, putting the drunken journalist at risk. His loyalties face challenges when he and Sala get in trouble with locals, when a Carnival dance enrages Sanderson, and when the paper hits the skids. Is the solution always booze? Paul and his friends will find out.
Stylish and Sexy, But is it Good?
Without being a great film, I liked The Rum Diary for its exotic exploration of the 1960s. Having grown up with the James Bond movies where Sean Connery was harpooning sharks in the Bahamas in Thunderball (1965), this is a ‘sexy’ film where the wealthy gentlemen look nice and they like flashing their money and toys in front of everybody. Although these scenes are few in number, the use of alcohol in the story is quite excentric, where we actually see Paul and Sala use 470 proof alcohol as a flame thrower against cops and criminals in the streets of San Juan. Even if the narrative structure of the film seems pretty unoriginal, the characters’ definition of ‘moderation’ certainly is original.
Now, I won’t lie, this film will not be remembered, and it’s hard to argue against it. The payoff of the plot is practically non-existent, so the conclusion is quite bittersweet; we have the impression that no one has learned anything. Well, the editor of the paper tries to sell us the morale that American greed makes people blind to the horrors of the world, but the idea isn’t explored enough to make the case. Although many of the characters we do love, I include Giovanni Ribisi’s Moberg as the drug and alcohol addicted maniac working with Paul and Sala, we have the feeling none of them are going anywhere. In order to fully appreciate this film, it remains mainly a question of style. The film looks good, is well shot and features excentric use of alcohol and sex appeal. That’s it…and I’m still down for it.
When Johnny met Amber
Now, back to Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. As Depp was highly implicated in the casting process as a producer, he was part of the decision to hire her for the role of Chenault, Sanderson’s girlfriend. Her character is well used as the savage female representation of the American dream, the ultimate trophy for men to be considered successful in the 1960s. She is beautiful, but dangerous it seems (see what I did there). It has been told during his testimony in court that Depp did not have many interactions with her on set…but something happened on the day that their sex scene was scheduled. Depp and Heard hit it off, and grew closer to each other after an intimate scene that changed them. The rest…well…lead to an unhappy marriage and toxic relationship in the years after.
Funny enough though, in Depp’s narration in the trailer, he said this: “If the drinking does not put you into trouble, the women definitely will”. Not to laugh at the situation at hand, but I think that Johnny learned that the hard way in his life!
You can find The Rum Diary on iTunes or the Apple TV app to rent or buy.