Depp stars as Paul Kemp, a journalist who moves from 1950s New York to write for major English newspaper The Daily News in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While there, Kemp gets entangled with a capitalist entrepreneur Sanderson (suave and sexy Aron Eckhart) whose wish is to turn Puerto Rico into a capitalist American paradise. Opposing Kemp’s relationship with the high powered Sanderson is a mounting sexual tension between Kemp and Sanderson’s fiancée Chenault (Amber Heard, Pineapple Express), along with the obstinate intoxication of Kemp and his journalist buddy (Michael Rispoli) as they pound back the rum, resulting in a little Puerto Rican jail time.
Throughout the film, Kemp struggles with the form of journalism, especially his means of writing about what he believes to be important. In trying to produce articles that will expose truths about Americans in Puerto Rico or the current state of Puerto Rico itself, the editor of The Daily News (Richar Jenkins), turns Kemp’s work down, in lieu of uncontroversial articles that will tickle the fancy of “ignorant” American tourists.
In The Rum Diary, Paul Kemp’s experience mirrors that of Hunter S. Thompson’s, who also traveled to San Juan to write for a newspaper, where the ideas for The Rum Diary came to be. Depp’s admiration for Hunter S. Thompson can be seen in his unwavering dedication to the role. Depp’s drunken antics, alongside his wit, add an element of humour to the otherwise serious issue The Rum Diary tackles—that of American imperialism in 1950s Puerto Rico.