Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich
Director: Laurence Dunmore
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: July 4, 2006
ďAllow me to be frank at the commencement. You will not like me.Ē
Johnny Depp always makes a movie more interesting, even one that isnít too successful in its own right. The Libertine, while giving the ultra-gifted Depp yet another chance to show off his talent in full form, just happens to be weak in several other areas. If the quote above is any indication, this is not a film to be easily liked.
Depp is mesmerizing, as always, as John Wilmot, a.k.a. the Earl of Rochester. Wilmot was a 17th century poet who delighted in many things, most of which consisted of activities steeped in pure debauchery. He was renowned for his work and at the same time despised by just about everyone for his indecent public behavior. He was consumed by both alcoholism and venereal diseases, leading to a death at the early age of 33.
And though Depp is indeed the strong point of this film, the movie doesnít explore much of this character, other than he was a nasty individual who threw himself at every woman he could possibly seduce. And his love for incorporating lurid behavior in his work is also reflected. All the while, though, we donít ever get a sense of why Wilmot indulged in the kinds of things he so eagerly indulged in.
And while I suppose that the only way to reflect upon the life of a notorious individual such as Wilmot would be to make dark and grim account of his life. However, the fundamental problem with The Libertine is a certain overdose of an all too overdone murky style. I was hip to the grainy black and white opening featuring Wilmot providing a suitable prologue to the filmís events, but from that point the overall style of the film simply bewildered me when it shouldíve been dazzling me.
Donít get me wrong; Iím all for a distinct visual style to drive a film. Take the recent work of Tony Scott. I applauded his last two films, Man on Fire and (most definitely) Domino, for incorporating a frenetic and intentionally dizzying visual style which I found to be very fitting for each filmís material. Many have slammed Scottís style, but Iíve found it to be most original. So it goes without saying that the murky style of director Laurence Dunmore might be fitting for some, but will put off just about anyone else.
But the film does have two additional benefits in the form of the presence of actors John Malkovich and Samantha Morton. Malkovich (what more can be said of the man) makes his presence felt in the small supporting role of King Charles II, a avid fan of Wilmotís work who comes to loathe the man as a result of his indecent behavior. And as for Ms. Morton, who plays aspiring stage actress Elizabeth Barry, after seeing her with a shaved head in both Minority Report and In America (not that I have anything against women who shave their heads), it was refreshing to see her with long hair. It made me realize what a beauty she really is.
As I mentioned, Johnny Depp is as real as it gets when it comes to delivering monumentally eccentric performances. But he is not new to this level of nasty. Weíve seen him go to the dark side in much better films such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Secret Window and especially in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. His wickedly corrupt but charming CIA agent character in that film remains the most overlooked performance of the actorís career, in my opinion.
So The Libertine is far from a success but for dedicated Johnny Depp fans, it definitely will not bore. The overly murky atmosphere of the film was simply too much for me to endure, and I wanted the story to reflect more about John Wilmot than was given.
Since the film itself relies on the appearance of very little light in the picture, the anamorphic picture is limited to being at only a good level, rather than excellent. It seems that grain pops in and out, but Iím persuaded to think that itís part of the filmís visual style. So what we have is a purposefully grungy looking presentation, and in that regard it is most acceptable.
Dialogue delivery and music score take center stage of the supplied 5.1 mix. Several set pieces result in incorporating distinct noises being heard through the channels. Itís Michael Nymanís score that is very much the high point of the presentation.
Included on the disc is a commentary track with director Laurence Dunmore, a very well made making of documentary, Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer.
With The Libertine, Johnny Depp will grab your attention from the get go with his uncanny performance. Unfortunately, for me, the rest of the film failed to do the same. It was indeed made for a certain kind of audience, and it appears I am not a part of this crowd.