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Johnny Depp delivers an acclaimed performance as celebrated writer and bad boy John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester. In a decadent and sensual 17th century London, Wilmot falls passionately in love with an aspiring actress, but is ruined when he scandalizes King Charles II with a shockingly audacious play.
- Commentary by director Laurence Dunmore
- "Capturing the Libertine" making-of featurette
- 10 deleted scenes
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I must give Johnny Depp credit because he turned in one of his finest performances. Even though his penchant for dressing up and putting on an accent in almost every movie he's done recently has reached the point of self-parody, it feels more natural and fresh here. However, the rest of the cast is no slouch either. John Malkovich gives a restrained performance as Charles II (reprising his stage role) and Samantha Morton also does well as Elizabeth Barry, an actress who Wilmot tutors then has an affair with. Also making appearances are Jack Davenport (Jack Sparrow's nemesis in Pirates of the Caribbean) as one of his friends, and Rosamund Pike as his wife, Elizabeth Malet. Obviously, now, Rosamund Pike has come into her own as an actress with GONE GIRL, but her supporting work here shows the chops she brought to that more recent role, even if she wasn't given a whole lot to do.
Still, there will be some issues with this film for some. The big one is the cinematography. I've seen it described as murky or grainy, and while that might be true to an extent, I don't really see it as a serious problem. For one, this film was shot with mostly natural light, if not all, and the lack of vibrant color is appropriate to the overall tone of the film and Wilmot's character as portrayed therein (or at least how he views life). As a libertine, he saw life as banal and went out of his way to make things more interesting for himself by being an all-around jerk and debauching all of the time. Personally, I didn't mind this either, but I can see how others might not like him, especially when he goes out of his way to make this clear to others (and the audience, at the beginning and end) just how unlikeable and how much of a cynic he is. My way into the film and his character was an icy and sardonic sense of humor, which was employed often.
Towards the end, it tries to be a little sentimental by showing his physical deterioration, and while this was still done effectively it undermined what came before it slightly. Despite my slight misgivings about the way things turn out in the final act, one of the best scenes in the entire film is in this section.
Overall, this isn't a film I'd necessarily return to, but I don't regret having watched it given how depressing it is. The score which accompanied it was decent enough and, despite what you might feel about the look of the film, it meshes well with the overall tone and Depp's performance. Just don't go in expecting him to be as cheery, optimistic or likeable as he is in almost everything else he's done.
RENT IT, BUY IT, then READ HIM! But be warned his works are not for the close minded, or faint of heart.
If you don't feel sorrowful pity for the very person you reviled through most of this film, then you're not watching The Libertine. If you are not both repelled and drawn to this man, the Earl himself would be disappointed as he needs others to ride the roller coaster he's driving.
The second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, was a prolific writer of satire and reason and his achievement soared as high as his debauchery sank him to his lows. But The Libertine is not just about the Earl; it is about the era that created him, that being the death of puritan-ruled England following civil war and the beheading of Charles I, along with the damage done by the fundamentalist mother he so hated.
One simply cannot speak of The Libertine without autoplay in the mind of the cellos; those quiet stringed prophecies of what's to come.
When asked what is my favorite film of all time, my answer is The Libertine. This is the young-Depp's Hamlet, a painful performance of self-loathing that also captures Depp at his most physically beautiful. This is my third watch, with each view as captivating as the first.
Strangely, a while later I wanted to see it again. Each time I've viewed it after that I have seen humanity, creativity, talent, and depth that I missed before. This is a strange film that is hard to like, but not hard to appreciate... if you give it more than one look. The cast is superb. The sets and costuming are wonderfully done. They aren't just backdrop and dressing, but totally part of each character and scene. There is a grittiness that is necessary. I think part of the reason I found it so disturbing and distasteful at first is because the ugliness is so ugly. But then that's the point.
This movie is one of the greats because what you see changes as you change. It grows and deepens as you grow. It's a keeper. If there is any doubt about whether Johnny Depp can do more than brood and cast sexy looks, watch this. You'll never ask that question again.