Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich
Directed by Laurence Dunmore
“The Libertine,” a film adaptation of the play by Stephen Jeffrey, chronicles the life, or more accurately the destruction of it, of 17th century cynic John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester.
Wilmot (Depp) opens the movie by saying, “You will not like me,” and indeed sets about showing us why not throughout the remainder of the film. From betraying his loyal wife (Pike) in whorehouses, to leaving faithful friends to die in the street for his misdeeds, Wilmot actively seeks lower and lower depths of deplorable behavior. Yet, he is never punished except with venereal diseases and possibly-rotten liver and kidneys.
As usual, Depp dives into his character, not only depicting, but becoming Wilmot, no matter how wretched a thing that may be. Although his English accent is never fully convincing, his performance here as the depraved, lush poet is persuasive enough to provoke fear and loathing in the viewer’s heart.
Morton’s performance as the cunning and ambitious actress/whore, Elizabeth Barry, is noteworthy for being convincing, and is coupled with an authentic English accent, which is possibly the thing that makes Depp’s bad accent stand out so dreadfully.
However, Depp’s accent isn’t Dunmore’s biggest problem in this film, which was shelved for a year before being begrudgingly released. Possibly hoping to give it the sincere appeal of low-budget movies, “Libertine” seems to be shot with cheap, foggy film on a hand held camera. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to make a thing seem low-budget when working with a cast of Hollywood-giants such as Depp and Malkovich. The result was that it detracted from the talented performances rather than put emphasis on them, because the unsteady camera work makes it hard for the eye to stay focused on the screen.
Even so, the characters have depth and the situations are intriguing enough to keep you fascinated to the exceedingly bitter end.