The Libertine review

:. Director: Laurence Dunmore
:. Starring: Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton
:. Running Time: 2:10
:. Year: 2005
:. Country: USA

Johnny Depp gives a ferocious performance in The Libertine, an adaptation of a play that focuses on the last chapter of the life of the notoriously depraved 17th-century poet John Wilmot — the Earl of Rochester.

The film opens with a close-up of Depp standing still as he recites a long monologue in front of the camera, scorching both female and male spectators with his beauty and solemnity. What follows is a two-hour showcase of the actor's brilliance, exhibiting here, for the first time, a sense of danger, perversity and inner ugliness. Far from his usual gallery of enjoyable weirdoes and cartoonish characters, Depp finds real pleasure in destroying his image as he slowly succumbs to syphilis.

Despite its title, Laurence Dunmore's debut is a chatty piece close to the spirit of a play, rather than a graphic piece of filmmaking #151; a visually arresting and dreamlike depiction of an orgy is the only raunchy moment of this picture. The direction is pretty subdued, leaving the spotlight to actors and words. This is a dialogue-driven character-study almost stripped of any plot, the two main events in his life shown here are writing a play for the King Charles II (John Malkovich always grandiose with a wig) - which he will screw up — and helping a young actress (the talented Samantha Morton) to become a stage star. The rest of the time, Wilmot's life seems to be limited to a constant state of drunkenness, sex and invectives. What makes The Libertine current is that despite its historical context, it's the story of a talented artist with a taste for excesses, which is reminiscent of modern figures such as poet Charles Buchowski as well as gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson and actor Marlon Brando, to whom this film is dedicated.

While this is a labor of love for actor/producer Malkovich, The Libertine is quite an elitist work that won't be able to transcend beyond the walls of art house theaters. Heavy in diatribes and unapologetically conscious of its artsy nature, this film is at times hard to digest, looking like the egotistical and self-centered work of a group of actors, rather than a piece destined to be seen by spectators. But that's also what art is about and as long as it works - which is the case here #151; it certainly deserves respect and support.

  Fred Thom

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