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The Libertine (2004)

DVD Cover (The Weinstein Company)
Genres:
Biopic (Feature), Drama, Period Film
Director:
Laurence Dunmore Laurence Dunmore
Starring:
Johnny Depp Johnny Depp
Paul Ritter Paul Ritter
John Malkovich John Malkovich
Stanley Townsend Stanley Townsend
Francesca Annis Francesca Annis

6.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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The story of John Wilmot, a.k.a. the Earl of Rochester, a 17th century poet who famously drank and debauched his way to an early grave, only to earn posthumous critical acclaim for his life's work. --TMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: March 22, 2006
Sometimes, villains are more lovable than the heroes. Examples: Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet"; John Malkovich in "In the Line of Fire"; and, the sometimes endearing, sometimes maniacal Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in "Misery". They are people we love to hate because they portray characters we love to hate, yet hate to love. Johnny Depp joins their illustrious company with "The Libertine", a motion picture that was designed to make you loathe Depp's character from the opening frame. But, we don't. We can't. His character is fun and we get to watch him have all of that fun. At the same time, we understand why we are suppose to hate him, considering he does possess a vile contempt for everything that is just, righteous, and moral. "The Libertine" has been receiving dreadful reviews - some of the worst of the year - and one of the primary reasons for critics blasting the film is that Depp's character is too unlikable. Personally, I don't think any character can be too unlikable. I remember watching "The Patriot" and hating Jason Isaacs so much that I couldn't wait to see him bite the dust. He was unlikable, but not too unlikable. Johnny Depp turns this character into a lecherous monster - a suave and drunkened serpent who prays on women the way most men take in air. His character is a villain; but, we love him.

In his most deviously over-the-top performance to date, Johnny Depp stars as John Wilmot, also known as the Earl of Rochester. Wilmot was a poet in the 17th Century, but earned more stardom and fame as a drinker of wine and a debaucher of women. We find Wilmot banished from England by King Charles II (John Malkovich), only to be asked back by the King to help him create a grande theatrical production for the visiting French ambassador. The goal is that the French will give England money, this throwing Charles back into the favor of the people and the House of Lords before his head meets the same fate as his father's head. When Wilmot arrives, he falls fast and hard for a young actress named Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton). Wilmot offers to give the girl acting lessons, and she accepts, thus kindling their romance. At the same time, Wilmot is married to his long-suffering wife (Rosamund Pike). What Wilmot gives King Charles II, however, is a testimony to egocentricism - a scandalously vile and pornographic parody of the king and all things sexual. This, of course, enrages Charles and Wilmot goes on the lamb, once more. The final half of the film deals with Wilmot's contracting syphilis and living in seclusion, on the run from Charles. And, when Charles does find him, Wilmot finally attempts to end his life on a positive note.

Despite what most critics would have you believe, I found "The Libertine" to be one of the more entertaining films I have seen in a while. The direction by Laurence Dunsmore was a little spotty, at times, but he manages to create such a distinct and colorful character in Wilmot that we find ourselves hard-pressed to forget him. I also loved the way in which Dunsmore chose to only use natural light in the film, which added a grainy, sometimes digital look to the film. Kubrick employed this technique famously in "Barry Lyndon", but Dunsmore takes it to a whole new level. Take, for instance, Wilmot's opening and closing monologues where we see the light of a candle, only to have his face come into view, shoot off at the mouth, and then disappear into the darkness once more. This lighting added so much to the tone of the film, and even to Depp's character. I also thoroughly enjoyed the way in which England was filmed - the dark and dismal streets, the raunchy and ridiculous people. This England was debaucherous and crude. This England was seedy and corrupt. It very much reminded me of the England in another Depp picture, "From Hell". "The Libertine" featured some of the best art direction and set decoration I have seen in a long, long while.

As for the performances, Johnny Depp carries this film on his shoulders. He was born to portray the character of John Wilmot. Depp is able to add all of the flamboyance to the role than another actor might have chosen to selectively leave out. We believe Depp when he is giving us these sordid monologues - we believe he will follow through with each and every word. The amazing thing, though, is how he still manages to invoke sympathy from us, especially when he is taken by syphilis and turned into a walking monster. As King Charles II, John Malkovich makes us realize why most everyone misses his presence in American cinema. He is flawless. He is such a natural actor, and we never once doubt him in any roles he chooses to undertake. His role here is not an enormous one, but just look at the relationship he is able to show between he and Wilmot. This is a man he seems to hate, but cannot seem to leave alone. He won't see him beheaded. He won't banish him for too long. It is as if Charles has too much admiration for Wilmot to do anything terrible to him. And, we find at the end of the film that Wilmot really does have some positive feelings towards Charles also. I thought the ending of this film was totally appropriate and added a new level to their relationship. Also, Samantha Morton is strong in another sterling supporting performance.

So, you can either choose to believe 95% of the critics out there and consider "The Libertine" to be one of the worst films of the year; or, you can believe me and take it for an entertaining romp through the underbelly of high society. Okay, you're probably going to believe the others, and that is fine, but just remember that Johnny Depp is in this film. Everyone loves Johnny Depp. "The Libertine" is one of Depp's best performances in that he gets to run wild. He gets to do whatever he wants to do and it all fits within the realm of his character, John Wilmot. Who wouldn't want the chance to portray a character that gives an actor such villainous freedom? I thought "The Libertine" was a gorgeously executed motion pictures with fine performances and a thoroughly just ending. I really don't see why it is receiving such negative press. Why don't you judge for yourself.

8/10.
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