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Johnny Depp plays another randy and tortured Ye Olde Englishman, this time an historically accurate one, John Wilmot, a.k.a. the Earl of Rochester, Wilmot was a classically debaucherous poet in the 17th century that apparently spent days on end doing his best to act shockingly in high society company while feeling sorry for himself. When King Charles II (played by John Malkovich, sporting one of the most obvious nose appliances I've ever seen) decides to release Wilmot from exile in the hopes of having a classic play written for him, the little emo playwright must once again face the real world. However, along the way he finds love and a genital ache.

Boring would be the easiest way to describe The Libertine, pretentious would be another apt adjective, as would ineffective, melodramatic, and unnecessary. Any time a film staring what may be the world's current favourite actor (Johnny Depp), and guest starring a recently Oscar nominated up-and-comer (Samantha Morton) almost doesn't see theatrical release is probably not the best on the market. Perhaps if there hadn't already been enormously successful films made about the last days of Amadeus Mozart and the Marquis de Sade, Laurence Dunmore's revel in pretence may have been something special enough to garner some kind of award for doing something different in the realm of filmdom.

Johnny Depp basically sleepwalks through his role as the vulgar versifier, as does Malkovich as the kong-schnozed king, but Morton really does her best. I honestly felt sorry for her, doing her best for a second nomination in such an obviously mediocre film. She's such a wonderfully wide-eyed actress that one can't help but enjoy her performance, even in awful films. None of the acting here is particularly ripe or hammy (the dialogue is a different story), but besides Morton, none of the actors lift their performances above the material.

It's hard to find specific faults with the film other than its lumbering pace and lack of intrigue. Things are shot to appear as if they'd only been lit by candle lit, which is an admirable concept, and the one thing that makes the film at all special. Unfortunately, other than the occasional flickering, things end up looking like a b-horror picture, and I kept half expecting Ian Holm to break out of the darkness to shiv a few prostitutes. The films tone is far too serious, only occasionally making clever moves towards remembrance (for instance, Depp and Malkovich holding hands while discussing seemingly important events), but every interesting turn reeks of actor input and actor input alone.

The film is host to a plethora of painfully obvious visual metaphors, all of which might as well be narrated similes. When Depp can't handle the pressure of his love for Morton he literally burns his poetry, when he escapes back to the country he literally steps in a pool of cess upon his arrival, and so on. I was turned off by The Libertine’s disability to take itself as trivially as deserved that I could care less about the actual historical account, of which I'm pretty sure the film takes at least some account of—although I still find it hard to believe that the word 'shag' was regularly used in the 17th century. A good bio pic really should garner interest in the subject after the film's conclusion, but I found myself looking forward to a long nap instead.


As stated, The Libertine was made to appear authentic, and as if candles and source light alone lighted it, and as I said, this was admirable but not entirely successful. From a digital, nearly high definition standpoint the process is a failure. Never is the overwhelming blackness of the frame truly black, though quite often it appears brownish (because as we all know, period pieces are meant to be represented in sepia tones), if that pleases the viewer’s eyes. The darkness or the heavy grain it produces often disturbs detail. The problem for me is that these were all, most likely, deliberate decisions on the filmmaker's part, and a true critique of the transfer proves difficult. I imagine that at the very least background low level noise was unintentional.



The Libertine isn't a audibly furious picture, and for the most part the sole Dolby Digital 5.1 track is utilized for dialogue alone. There is some pretty music and a few audience surround effects throughout, but the surround channels sit quietly for the majority of the run time. There is one sexually explicit day-dream/hallucination that really throbs the low end in the film's middle section, though entirely arbitrarily. To the track's credit, I did not once find myself fumbling for the remote in order to understand dialogue.


Perhaps the Weinstein Company has a company charter written out somewhere describing specifically what must be included in all DVDs as special features, because so far almost every disc has been the same. As before, extras kick off with a director's commentary. I'm sure Laurence Dunmore is a great guy in real life, but his commentary track is a study in conceit. Dunmore refers to his own images as 'classic' and has nothing but praise to lavish himself and his actors with, for the most part. As if awkwardly obvious metaphors weren't enough, Dunmore is sure to point them out to listeners, along with their intended meanings, prompting this particular viewer to shout the occasional embittered "no duh" at his television.

What I can say for Dunmore is that he knows his historical John Wilmot, and this knowledge makes its way onto the deleted scenes commentaries as well. The ten deleted scenes are the usual throwaways that would've slowed the slow movie down even further, and for the most part just drive down points about the character that needed no more hammering. The deleted scenes are followed by a surprisingly informative thirty-plus minute documentary about the genesis of the film, where we learn that it was in fact John Malkovich that was responsible for bringing the stage play to the big screen. Not to be outdone by the feature, the doc is pretty pompous itself, but the story of bringing the film to theatres over the course of ten years is fascinating enough to warrant a viewing.

Of course the Genius Products promotional machine cannot be stopped, and the rest of the disc is made up of trailers for the studio's other releases.



If you want to see Johnny Depp act his pretty little ass off as a fey Brit, catch Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl or Tim Burton's Sleepy Hallow instead. If you want to see a great film about the debaucherous poets of European history, catch Depp's Pirates co-star Geoffrey Rush in Philip Kaufman's Quills. It's a vastly superior film based on the semi-fictional last days of France's vastly more interesting Marquis de Sade, and revels in true debauchery. Instead of a nap, most viewers of that flick will be looking for a nice hot shower.