The Rum Diary - A Screenplay by Bruce Robinson

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The Rum Diary - A Screenplay by Bruce Robinson

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Andy Lancaster
Reviewed by Andy Lancaster
Summary: The frantic mind of Hunter S Thompson lies behind this energetic screenplay, set in 1960's Puerto Rica. Bruce Robinson has rendered Thompson's novel (for many years unpublished) into a comic but fiercely polemic film about the crooked despoliation of paradise, and an alcoholic journalist's attempts to combat the forces of capital.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: November 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099555698

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Kemp has lied his way onto a failing newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rica, as the only candidate for the job, and in a semi-comatose state induced by too many miniatures from the hotel minibar, stumbles into a conspiracy of epic proportions, via classic bar room brawls and nightclub mayhem. On the way he (almost) writes horoscopes and bowling championship stories, meets the fantastically erotic girlfriend of the evil businessman, and teams up with a proto-Nazi out of his mind on a cocktail of hootch and LSD, and a photographer side kick. There is no question that this is Hunter S Thompson territory, especially when all the above is combined with a witty, slow-talking hero who in spite of his alcoholic haze sees clearly through the exploitation of a third world country by its massive first world near neighbour.

What Robinson brings to this 60s cross between Bond, Marlow and Dean Martin is a fantastic sense of pace and action. If you have never read a screenplay before, this is an excellent one with which to begin as the witty scene setting and punchy sequencing of action makes the images both unroll before you while catching the wry grin on the storyteller's face. This script makes the reader feel that they are watching as tense and dramatic a car chase as in any thriller/action movie, and at the same time bringing a knowing smile to the process, but this might only be expected from the writer of 'Withnail and I'.

For while this is a ripping action-packed read, the witty and sharp author's voice that emerges in the scene setting is expertly used to remind us of the real hero of the narrative, the beautiful, innocent island of Puerto Rica itself. In brief snatches of emotion rather than detailed description Robinson reminds us that away from the cheap tackiness of the bars and bowling joints, the sleazy US paper that tows the party line and the marinas oozing money there is a stunning, almost virgin land that is steadily being despoiled by those who both carelessly and knowingly exploit its beauty. Just like Chenault, the gorgeous female interest who is ultimately dragged down in spite of her beauty, Robinson makes us see that Puerto Rice is going the same way.

That Robinson is an experienced and accomplished dramatic script writer there is no doubt – 'The Killingfields' testifies to that – nor that he has a witty and erudite vision of the world, as in 'Withnail..'. In 'The Rum Diary' teamed with Thompson's explosive alternative world of drugs and drink, of fury at the destructive force of greed and colonial arrogance, Robinson has created here a simultaneously dramatic, comic and enraged screenplay which carries both a powerful punch and ironically a redemptive message as Kemp turns away from drunken hack into a real journalist.

For a fascinating insight into the strange world of Hunter S Thompson, Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S Thompson by Anita Thompson (Editor) is something of a mixed bag, but in many interviews Thompson's fury at the betrayal of the American Dream is evident.

A book which traces a more constrained and considered historical approach towards America and its role in the world (and its view of itself) is The American Future: A History by Simon Schama, which while decidedly more balanced, still reveals some of the attitudes towards the Caribbean which lie behind 'The Rum Diary'.

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