Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) is an American journalist who has relocated to San Juan, Puerto Rico as a freelance writer in the 1950s. He’s hired by a not-so-great American newspaper to write the daily horoscopes. At first he thinks it’s a joke, but alas, it is not.
As the film unfolds, there’s a tension in the air, and I don’t mean the rum-aroma air that almost seeps through the screen. There is a tension existing inside Paul Kemp. As he sits at Al’s bar with Chenault (Amber Heard) he tells her, “I don’t know how to write like me.” From the beginning of the film, we see this struggle. After witnessing his first Puerto Rican cock fight, Paul wanders off with a camera. He snaps some pictures of the local children in a trash dump. He then writes a story about the children eating in the dump. He wants to draw the attention of the reader to this great injustice. It’s rejected by the editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). “Nothing will change,” Lotterman reasons. “You underestimate me,” Kemp replies.