(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
Copyright 2005 Mark R. Leeper
========== X-RAMR-ID: 39682 X-Language: en X-RT-ReviewID: 1382829 X-RT-TitleID: 10005238 X-RT-SourceID: 1591 X-RT-AuthorID: 1309 X-RT-RatingText: 6/10
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