The Libertine
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Laurence Dunmore
scr Stephen Jeffreys
with Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich, Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander, Jack Davenport, Francesca Annis, Johnny Vegas, Richard Coyle, Rupert Friend, Kelly Reilly, Shane MacGowan
release UK 18.Nov.05, US 25.Nov.05
05/UK Miramax 1h54

Restoration: Morton and Depp

depp malkovich pike


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The Libertine Set during the "hangover" following England's 17th century Restoration, this true story features fascinating characters played by exceptional actors. But the film's murky look and stagy narrative weaken the gut-punch it so wants to deliver.

The second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (Depp), is a free spirit without any sense of morality. His wife (Pike) puts up with his antics, while his friends bask in his raucous, intelligent glow. Charles II (Malkovich) commissions him to write a play for a visiting dignitary, but the patently obscene production sits at odds with John's sudden discovery that he might be in love with his lead actress (Morton). Although she's not about to follow him into the hole he's digging for himself.

Opening with a to-camera monologue in which John states that he doesn't want us to like him, we know from the start that this is going to be a journey into depravity and, of course, redemption. Dunmore films it in deep shadow; everything takes place in a muddy gloom that looks interesting on screen but continually obscures the action (it'll be unwatchable on video). And Jeffreys' script isn't much clearer, wallowing in shadowy decadence with dialog that sounds written, not spoken--like Shakespeare filtered through Tarantino. It's intelligent and literary, but rarely believable.

Fortunately the cast brings the characters to vivid life, adding texture and colour. Depp gives a dazzling tour de force as a man who loses his soul, then his heart, then his body. It's a continually surprising performance. Yet even though his interaction with Morton and Pike is sharp and smart, the mannered filmmaking keeps it from being as emotional as it should be.

As artful and lively as this film is, the filmmakers seem to get bogged down in their moralising message, only offering token portrayals of decadence in lieu of a cautionary tale about a wasted life. Darkly elegant and sometimes brilliant, it's still a grim mess of a movie. Yet even as the drifting plot gets melodramatic and ill-defined, Depp holds it together and keeps us glued to our seats. His final scenes are staggering.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, nudity 23.Sep.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Libertine Kate, Kentucky, USA: 3/5 "Depp was fabulous bringing this despicable character to life, but unfortunately the film as a whole just didn't work. The plot jumped from event to event, there was no flowing of the story, and it seemed to be missing some pertinent details. His sketchy relationship with the wife was most lacking. There was no sense of her real feelings, or of the quality (or lack thereof) in their marriage. She just showed up from time to time and then was all weepy at the end. Where was that emoiton coming from? I did like the 'dirty, dreary' filming technique, as if the only lighting used was candle light. There were moments of humor, and some good lines, but I wish the overall effect would have been more cohesive. Disappointing film that could have been so much more fulfilling, particularly with Depp's artful performance." (14.Mar.06)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall