The Libertine (2004)
The under-the-radar factor:
In the midst of Johnny Depp's commercial triumphs with the Pirates series and remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came this film, given a limited release by The Weinstein Company. According to IMDB, the film has grossed less than $5 million dollars in the United States. The movie received a subdued, non-spotlight premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. This production was previously mentioned in a post concerning neglected offerings of A-list stars.
"You will not like me..."
Don't say you were not warned by the words spoken at the beginning by the second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (Depp).
Of course, after this post (and if you have been one of the few who have actually seen the movie), you may not like this reviewer very much...
... but "fyi" to all others, the fact is I rather wallowed in The Libertine. And the wallowing may not necessarily have been fun but it was an experience... and I'm glad I took part.
Set in 17th century London after Charles II (John Malkovich) has returned to the throne, Wilmot finds himself briefly banished to the countryside for misbehavior. The undeniably talented but extremely cynical poet has a way of trying everyone's patience, including that of his wife Elizabeth (Rosamund Pike). The King, however, has never really been so much angry as disappointed in Rochester and summons him back to write a play to impress the visiting French ambassador. In between proceeding with the production, fornicating with prostitutes, and driving his liver to an early grave through drink, Wilmot takes on a pet project. The young Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton), an actress who he has seen jeered off the stage, reluctantly agrees to be mentored by this writer who is both taken with her looks and impressed by her character.
Barry, who eventually becomes his mistress, sees her career take off just as Rochester's plummets. He ridicules Charles with a production featuring long wooden dildos and flees into hiding. Wilmot's health fails as syphilis ravages his body, taking away his dexterity and, eventually, his nose (I kid you not). After an unexpected intersession for the King, the poet meets his inevitable fate.
A lot has been said (pejoratively) about the "murky" cinematography in the film but after seeing a number of period pieces with a pristine glow that said to me "nah....I don't think they had it that good!", I found it refreshing to see the gloomier (and probably more realistic) visual portrayal of London in that era - mud, roaming rats and all.
And the acting in the film is top notch. Depp is engaging throughout. Just as the movie seems ready to slip into neutral (and it does come close to that a few times), Johnny does or says something to pull the viewer back in. It's the kind of role that allows him to slice the ham pretty thick and he takes delightful advantage of that. Morton provides a powerful foil to his desires and her character stands up strongly (although her transformation into an accomplished actress is somewhat less convincing). Pike displays a patience as his wife that comes across as noble without being a sap.
The film provides a fascinating look at this train wreck of a main character and I recommend it as an interesting (if not necessarily comfortable) adventure. The Earl is right when he says you will not like him but his free-fall makes for a hell ride that will not put you to sleep. Director Laurence Dunmore and writer Stephen Jeffreys (the script is based on his stage play) construct a story that takes all kinds of chances and, while not always successful, makes for a robust tale. Interesting that this is the one and only feature that the music video and ad director has attempted. Based on this work, I wish Dunmore would throw himself back into the cinematic fire.
I say this film tastes - DELICIOUSLY DECADENT.