Rated R; Directed by Laurence Dunmore; Starring Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, Rosamund Pike, John Malkovich
I love these costumed dramas. I also love Johnny Depp. Yet, why do I feel dissatisfied after watching “The Libertine?” Maybe it’s because we start off with John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester – the libertine of the title – at his height of success. Sure, he’s been banished by King Charles II (John Malkovich), but Charles has just called him back to court. What we now watch is the long, disgusting fall of what one assumes is a talented man. Maybe that’s it. I didn’t see the talent. One scene of an explicitly bawdy play (a tribute to the dildo) is all we see.
There’s lots to like in the movie. Seeing stage acting in the 17th century, some wonderful costumes, and lots of dirty words and sexual situations had me entertained. At the same time, somber cinematography, the overlong degeneration of the main character, and even more of those dirty words and sexual situations also left me cold.
What I did find satisfying were the women in the cast. From the intelligent actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) to Wilmot’s elegant and unhappy wife, Elizabeth (Rosamund Pike), the women were fascinating. Rosamund Pike delivers an amazing performance. Samantha Morton, allowing herself to look uncommonly plain had fun playing the very real actress who achieves fame with Wilmot’s help.
Depp, a brave actor, is quite willing to be a despicable cad without any redeeming qualities. Wilmot warns us at the start that we won’t like him and there’s truth to that statement.
The film has some good moments, but I would much rather the movie had been about the more interesting women in Wilmot’s life.