The Libertine opens with an awkward monologue and gets stranger from there. This monologue (which is freakishly candle lit) has Johnny Depp telling the audience “You won’t like me.” The “real” movie then starts and shows us why we won’t like the Earl of Rochester, one John Wilmot (played by Johnny Depp).
Who is this Wilmot fellow who we’re guaranteed to not like? He’s a 17th century poet in jolly old London, England. He’s a womanizer, a drunk, a liar, a cheaterÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ pretty much all the qualities you look for in a traditional anti-hero. I have no problem with any of the above activities in the protagonist; to the contrary when Depp is being lecherous he’s at his very best. As with his role as Captain Jack Sparrow I think the audience has always looked for a bit of mischief from Depp. The Libertine follows the Earl’s path from acclaimed poet to social pariah. He’s fast friends with King Charles II who is played capably by John Malkovich. I also really liked Rosamund Pike as the Earl’s wife. She doesn’t get the glory role of the mistress but she makes the movie a little more bearable whenever she’s on screen.
What goes wrong in the The Libertine happens early and often. The issue is not that Depp is bad to the bone but more that he’s boring to the bone. He’s not the self destructive type who goes out with flair, he’s more of the whiny drunk who does bad things to people and then feels sort of bad about it. This just won’t do. I can take a bad guy who’s also a hell of a writer, I just can’t take a bad guy who knows he’s a bad guy and still won’t change. That just makes him stupid. This is how Depp plays it though, straight up dumb. The film is also very darkly lit throughout with odd European like transitions. So no, I didn’t love it. Sorry fellas.
The one interesting theme that does appear in The Libertine is the idea of “winning” relationships. The idea behind Depp’s character seems to be that he becomes depraved because he’s taken advantage of, used up and then cast aside. His tormentor is a young actress he teaches the tricks of the trade. In this case she “won” the relationship; she came out of it far better than him. It’s the only real depth in an otherwise simple tale.
Depp teaches this young actress and of course we get a montage of her “learning” to act. I’ve never been a fan of the montage learning scene because it doesn’t get at the root of whatever made the person suck before. If music started playing right now and I became a better writer we wouldn’t really know what was wrong with me in the first place would we? The issues with The Libertine are pacing and plot related. This is to be expected because The Libertine is the work of first time director Lawrence Dunmore and first time screenwriter Stephen Jeffries. I hope they learn from their mistakes even if it takes a montage for them to do so.
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