Saturday, 19 November 2011
Film Review: The Rum Diary
Director: Bruce Robinson
Runtime: 120 Minutes
It has become a cliche to suggest that faded artists are haunted by the mistakes of their past. The truth is, of course, that they are more commonly haunted by the successes by which they will always be defined, and against which their work will all always be judged. No better illustration of this axiom can exist in all cinema than the career of Bruce Robinson; a man for whom every single creative act, appearance, or introduction, is framed by a solitary flourish of untempered brilliance some twenty four years ago- the comic masterpiece, Withnail and I.
Even in the wake of the, at first, tepidly received Withail, Robinson was confounded and frustrated in his film-making efforts. So much so, infact, that he first retreated from directing to screen-writing and, in 1999, abandoned the world of cinema altogether. His return to film-making, blessed with the largest budget of his career, a revered source material, and a marquee name in the title role, has, inevitably, been met with considerable anticipation.
Unfortunately, equally inevitabaly, the resulting film would have to be an extraordinairy piece of work to flourish in the shadow of a legacy that has grown immeasurably in the intervening decades and, sadly, it is not- and by some distance. The Rum Diary is so pedestrian a work that not only does it fail to flourish, but
the hope that it might has withered and died by the end of its first act, and the cancer's source is its screenplay.
All weaknesses within the film can be directly traced to its script, which is so riddled with elementary oversights and oafish mannerisms of style that alienation and boredom are both universal and, sadly, unavoidable. Though Depp's protagonist has the superficial elan that the actor can effortlessly bring to any anti-hero, it is not nearly enough to patch up a character arc that is poorly conceived and weakly rendered, existing- where it does- only in cliche. Regrettably, these systematic failures are even more apparent in the supporting cast and characters, all of whom walk a tight-rope between implausibility and indifference.
Robinson has never been immune to such technical shortcomings, indeed, the script of the great Withnail itself reads, in the words of Professor Ben Halligan, "like an A to Z of how not to write a screenplay," and yet its wit, lyricism and pathos sublimate the film to the point that this becomes immaterial. These were inherent to the features that rendered the trials of Withnail, Marwood, and Uncle Monty, endlessly quotable to new generations of cinema-goers. The various lines of them of The Rum Diary have the curious quality of both sinking and fading into the ether as soon as they spill forth from the characters mouths, and there can be few performances of less consequence than the unfortunate Amber Heard, whose "eye candy" roll maybe the first to be less human than actual candy.
Where Withanil's lines seemed so finely crafted they could decorate the walls of kings, The Rum Diary's appear to have been crudely hacked in great cloying lumps. It it is a measure of the esteem and affection in which Robinson's prior achievements are so rightly held that at the film's midway point one feels no scorn, nor resentment- rather, pity. It is an uncomfortable sensation to experience in seeing what would otherwise be a merely unremarkably dull piece of cinema. Noone likes to see their heroes grow old, and for those who adored the poetry of Robinson's debut tragi-comedy, or the surreal exuberance of How to Get Ahead in Advertising, The Rum Diary seems the bitterest of blows.