The Libertine (2004)

reviewed by
Mark R. Leeper


                          THE LIBERTINE
                (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
     CAPSULE: Johnny Depp plays a role unlike any he
     has played before.  (Doesn't he always?)  This
     film about a great rake in Restoration England
     is a literate morality tale.  The writing is

good, but the presentation is indifferent.

     Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

"Anyone can oppose. It's fun being against things. But there

comes a time when one must be for things." This is the advice

that Charles II (played by John Malkovich) gives supreme cynic

John Wilmot (Johnny Depp) in the film THE LIBERTINE, directed by

Laurence Dunmore from a literate and intelligent screenplay by

Stephen Jeffreys based on his play.

During the English Restoration period the John Wilmot, Second

Earl of Rochester, is one of the great minds of England as well

as one of its most shameless rakes. (Historically the two

capacities do seem to go hand in hand.) His father saved the

life of King Charles II and Charles admires Rochester's talent

for words, but Rochester just wants to be the worst bad boy he

can arrange to be and to squander every advantage he has. On a

bet Rochester adopts a very bad stage actress and tutors her on

his own ideas about acting. Though he really has no credentials

he manages to turn her into a very fine actress. Requested to

write a major literary work for Charles to use as a status symbol

for his country, Rochester decides to write an extreme

embarrassment for Charles. Perhaps a story that dwells so long

on one man's decadence is not the highest aspiration the film

could wish for, but the Depp performance certainly makes the film

worthwhile by itself.

In stark contrast to Michael Hoffman's RESTORATION, set in the

same period and making it look magnificent, Dunmore gives us

images of painted dandies and fops walking in streets of running

mud, muck, and sewage. The photography and language are murky

and smoky. Depp really stretches his range in the sort of role

that at one time might have gone to John Hurt. The film shows

the degradation of the character from handsome fop to . . .,

well, to a much lower state. Depp may well be the finest actor

of his generation. Certainly he is frequently claimed to be.

And this could well be regarded as one of his best roles, if the

film will get a release. I saw it at a film festival where it

was called a work in progress. It is not clear what the

producers want from the film. It could be it needs more

technical enhancement, as the photography seemed so dark. If

there were dramatic problems or production problems like editing

they were not evident. I rate the version I saw of THE LIBERTINE

a high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        mleeper@optonline.net
                                        Copyright 2005 Mark R. Leeper
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X-RT-RatingText: 6/10

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