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The Libertine (Widescreen)
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Libertine follows the adventures of John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester. Known for his scandalous ways, he lives life in pursuit of vice with little recourse. Married but not satisfied, he has a passionate romance with a young actress, Elizabeth Barry, and writes a scurrilous play that lampoons its commissioner, King Charles II.
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Guaranteed those of you on your next visit to London's St. James Park will never look at that park the same way after seeing the one scene in this movie. The smoky, foggy streets of London's past are well created here and the whole movie exists in a darkness only lit by candlelight that allows you to immerse yourself within the story without being distracted by the "effects."
The behind-the-scenes DVD extra is superb and is over 30 minutes. It's not some slapdash production but a true documentary on how the film was financed, produced, cast and shot. Usual commentary track and deleted scenes also on there.
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THE LIBERTINE is a dark film that the studio wisely decided to release only after the Christmas holiday season. In it, Depp plays John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester (b. 1647 - d. 1680), whose life of debauchery was a public scandal even in a society that tolerated the loose morality of King Charles II and his court. Ironically, as the film makes a point of depicting, Charles (John Malkovich) reluctantly, but regularly, banished Rochester from the royal presence for the liberties the latter took in lampooning the former's free-wheeling lifestyle.
THE LIBERTINE is a depressing affair mainly because there's nobody in it to like. Moreover, neither Wilmot nor the viewers' sensitivities are spared the ravages of tertiary syphilis, the disease that ultimately kills the Earl; the film is a great argument for the advent of penicillin. Only Rosamund Pike as Rochester's long-suffering wife may gain audience sympathy. Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton), the struggling actress whose career Rochester takes upon himself to further, apparently for uncharacteristically altruistic reasons, matter-of-factly accepts his help but remained unengaging to this viewer. The gloom is enhanced by a cinematography accomplished in somber, washed-out tones, particularly brown and dark green, with lots of shadows and murky candle light. Even the daylight is muted, as if in winter.
Now having said why THE LIBERTINE isn't light and airy, I have to also say that it's a powerful display of Depp's superlative talent. If the film wasn't so bleak, I'd expect a stampede to nominate Johnny for an Oscar. Rochester's two monologues for the camera, at the beginning and the end, the latter as his face recedes into darkness, are but hints of the excellence in between.
At one point in the movie, Rochester says (if I remember correctly): "Life isn't a sequence of 'urgent nows', but a listless trickle of 'why should I?s'." The tragedy for Rochester is that, at least in this screenplay, answers to the latter are piteously few. However, your answer to the question when contemplating seeing the movie should be: "Because Johnny Depp is as good as you'll ever seem him."
This movie casts it's spell and is difficult to leave behind. Against the Earl's best advice, I cannot help but like him.
Do not let the critics influence you about this film. See it for yourself and decide. Your time will not be wasted.
"The Libertine", directed by Laurence Dunmore and written by Stephen Jeffreys, based on his own play, is a very good film, for the most part.
The film opens with Depp in darkness and shadow, holding a wine glass, moving towards the candlelight and into our view. Wilmot informs us "You will not like me". As he continues, he announces "Ladies, I am up for it all the time." This scene is already one of the most memorable in recent film. Because it is Johnny Depp, many women (and for that matter, some men) will swoon as soon as he appears onscreen, but as he begins to warn us, he further cements our memory of this character. His frank and open manner is very memorable.
Sure enough, as the film progresses, we don't like Wilmot. It is a testament to Depp's skill as an actor that we don't really care. Depp's portrayal is interesting and challenging, both of which more than make up for the lack of a likable hero in the story. Wilmot enjoys all of the pleasures of living in society and enjoys them well. As he and his wife ride back to London, he fondles her as she recounts how they initially met, a strangely erotic story portrayed in a charged way. In London, he immediately revisits a favorite bordello. Soon, he meets Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton), an actress who attracts his attention and receives his guidance. A good example of his uninhibited nature is displayed when Wilmot meets the man who will eventually become his new valet. After setting a test for the subject, Wilmot is surprised to learn the man's name is Allcock. Very fitting for the playwright. All the while, he drinks, and drinks, and drinks. Depp manages to make all of this carousing and carrying on seem entirely natural.
Later, when Charles calls upon John to write the play, for a visit from the French Ambassador, he pens a work about Charles, as only Wilmot can. But that is best left to your discovery.
What I didn't get from the film, or Depp's performance, was evidence of why Wilmot is remembered today as a good writer. During a few scenes, he creates some interesting verbal word play, but the one play we get a glimpse of is clearly designed to offend the monarch and little else. The work seems amateurish, even childish in execution, so it doesn't work as a testament to his ability as a writer.
"The Libertine" is strangely beautiful to watch. I suspect the movie was filmed using high definition video and available light. As all lighting during this period is provided by candle, light sources are inconsistent, flickering, allowing more dark to seep into the frame. Because of this same lack of light, the film has a very grainy look and all objects are drained of color imbuing a sepia tone throughout. As you watch the story, you get the sense of reading an old book, or looking at old drawings torn from a 17th Century manuscript. The look of the film is further enhanced by attention to detail in both costumes (suitably elaborate) and scenery (suitably muddy and dark). The look of the film is entirely successful, capturing details of London during the Seventeenth Century.
Samantha Morton and John Malkovich are both good, restrained and believable, providing a nice counterpoint to Depp's more theatrical performance. Malkovich doesn't scream or rant, as you might expect, giving his portrayal of Charles II more believability, more vulnerability. Charles II was vulnerable during this period, so it works. Morton brings a quiet power to her performance. Manipulated by Wilmot and Charles, she seems a pawn throughout. But as we watch her performance, we begin to question that, and realize perhaps she is stronger than we initially thought.
"The Libertine" is a very good film, featuring a memorable, uninhibited performance by Depp. But it doesn't fulfill its initial promise to convince us of why Wilmot is still remembered to this day. A late scene in the film shows a number of his writings and drawings being destroyed by a family member. Why was he remembered as a great writer? How was he remembered? Through word of mouth? How were his writings remembered?
Hopefully, the film will not suffer the same fate as its `hero'.
The film has a very distinctive look to it: partly to emphasize the aura of menace and decay, but also as a cost-cutting measure, all of the outdoor scenes are obscured by thick dark smog and all of the indoor scenes are candlelit. Johnny Depp does terrific things as Rochester, although the screenplay requires him to be constantly foul-tempered and temperamentally anhedonic. Oddly, his foils of Charles II and the playwright George Etheredge are played by two actors who usually play Rochester-types on film, John Malkovich and Tom Hollander. Malkovich shines playing what is for him a very different type, the willful but somewhat dull-witted Stuart king. Samantha Morton acts superbly as Rochester's actress protegé Elizabeth Barry, but unfortunately is not very charismatic; Rosamund Pike, ideally cast as a Restoration beauty, is much more appealing as Rochester's heiress wife Elizabeth Malet. The film is intelligently directed, but the screenplay just doesn't hang together. It's often hard to know what kind of point there is to all this other than that things fall apart and the center cannot hold, especially since several characters (such as Rochester's friend? lover? Billy Downs) are left underwritten and underexplained.
I saw this in the theater, and I thought it was brilliant. Johnny Depp's characterization of John Wilmot was amazing. I would like to add, unlike most, that I found this a tightly crafted work that is a beautifully balanced ensemble. The criticisms I read in reviews elsewhere about the lighting and color are the ramblings of idiots. This film revealed the unromanticized squalor of the period.
If you have ever been at a party where there is one guy who says what everyone thinks but fears to say in case of social reprisal, you have an idea how captivating someone walking on the edge can be. You watch them like you would a train wreck. --and yes they generally are outside the box--yet still feel boxed in and the drinking and carousing or excesses are just the symptomatic combination of being utterly stiffled by hipocrisy, and repulsed by the whitewash encrusting the truth, and living in a decadent jaded age.
Don't watch the libertine if you are hoping to feel uplifted and happy. It is powerful and seductive, dark and heavy, thought provoking and disturbing, painful and hypnotic, horrifying and humanizing. You watch a man at the height of his social power lose everything. Picasso said that art is a lie that reveals the truth. I found this to be just such a work.--Maybe so was John Wilmot.