image courtesy of Amazon.com
Johnny Depp….Earl of Rochester
Samantha Morton….Elizabeth Barry
John Malkovich….King Charles II
Rosamund Pike….Elizabeth Malet
Weinstein Company/Genius Products presents The Libertine. Screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated R. Theatrical release 20005. DVD released July 4, 2006.
This 17th century English historical drama starts off on the right foot for me. Johnny Depp stares at the camera and gives a monologue to the ladies that he’s “up for it all the time.” And then to back up the brag, we see Depp in a carriage working his hand between the thighs of a Bond girl while she talks about how he seduced her. When he’s done, he lets her lick his fingers clean. I’m hooked. Unfortunately there’s a bait and switch to the film.
Depp plays the Earl of Rochester, a buddy of King Charles II. The two have a love-hate relationship. The King trusts the Earl’s judgement, but doesn’t appreciate it when the Earl pricks him in poems and plays. But he respects the Earl’s artistic vision to such a degree that he wants the Earl to write a profound work of art so that he can have inspired an artist like Queen Elizabeth supported Shakespeare. The Earl decides not only to create a great play, but to transform a stage flop, Elizabeth Barry, into a top actress through an acting boot camp. The Libertine turns into a smutty, but classy version of My Fair Lady. The Earl’s Henry Higgins isn’t discreet in his desires to boff his Eliza Doolittle once he gets her to understand about the rain in Spain. It is during these moments of theater talk between The Earl and Barry that the movie turns into a filmed play. This film will be inspiration for a dirty old drama coach. But for those of us lured in with the promise of a Cinemax After Dark entertainment, the naughtiness takes place with too much clothes on. This is no Private Resort.
Most of the film, Depp looks like Captain Jack Sparrow all cleaned up. The ladies will drool as he walks around in fancy garb and feathered hat. But the second half of the movie shows exactly why women weren’t flocking to see this film. All his debauchery leads to him catching VD. Women don’t mind Johnny dirtied up while swashbuckling, but they don’t enjoy seeing his nose falls off. From an actor who got his start in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Depp now assumes the same complexion as Freddy Krueger. But even without a nose, he gives a powerful performance that shows he’s still an actor and not merely a movie star. As ugly as he gets, you still want to watch him….although you don’t want to touch him.
I’m not sure what to make of Laurence Dunmore’s direction. The actors give great performances, but his cinematic choices were more annoying than unnerving. He wants to give a vintage look as if the film is ancient, but on video, it looks like your cables aren’t properly connected. He has too much unsteady handheld camera action that allows the actors to go out of focus. It became too much of a distraction than a device. For his first film he made a major mistake in hiring Michael Nyman to score his film. While listening to the film’s soundtrack, I’m wondering why they didn’t hire Peter Greenaway to be the director. Of course it also doesn’t help that Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story uses Nyman’s score for Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract.. You’d almost think Nyman was always playing out of 17th century jukeboxes.
The Libertine is worth a renting. Depp delivers his best performances since Donnie Brasco. You believe he’s a man who never gave up being a pervert under the worst of circumtances. He may declare at the start of the film that “you will not like me,” but it’s the rest of the movie that I really can’t embrace. It makes an excellent gift to that special someone who can’t stop talking about how hot Johnny Depp is. They’ll have second thoughts about him when they see him lose bladder control and soak his trousers.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 6/10
TOTAL POINTS: 35/50
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
The film is Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 Because a lot of the film was shot using candlelight, the image is very grainy in parts and looks like static.
This film is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.
There’s a commentary track from Laurence Dunmore. He seems rather careful with his words. He does help give more historical background on the Earl. It is a shame that Malkovich couldn’t also be part of the track since he did so much work to make it happen.
Deleted Scenes (15:06) – Seven deleted scenes and the full sequence for the deathbed scene are offered from the cutting room floor. There is the option for Dunmore to talk about the scenes and why they didn’t make it into the film. How could they have snipped a guy getting a gut shot from a cannonball?
Capturing The Libertine (36:05): A pretty inclusive documentary that follows the production and exposes the various road bumps in the creation. Malkovich comes off as the driving force behind the production including discovering the director while making a commercial. There’s a great deal of behind the scenes footage that shows how Dunsmore works – mostly through the haze of smoke machines. There is footage of Shane MacGowan of Pogues fame singing as a bit character that was cut from the film and didn’t even make the deleted scenes section.
Trailer (2:02): The trailer seems to promise us a Cinemax After Dark extravaganza with the bosom clutching and Depp promising that we won’t like him. You wouldn’t expect this is a film about acting.