Published Mar 01, 2006You want to like a movie like The Libertine more than you actually do. It's up to its armpits in dank, fetid atmosphere just the sort of method for rendering the downward spiral of someone like John Wilmot (Johnny Depp), the Earl of Rochester and a genuinely dissipated prick. But in the end, the Restoration-set debauch has nothing going for it that any Jim Morrison biography couldn't give you, and is considerably less fun to boot.
Our Earl advises us early on that, "I do not want you to like me," but of course the film invites us to like him plenty, as a non-hypocrite and generally fun-loving sort who commits all manner of pranks and naughtiness in the name of art. We're supposed to "get him" because of his love of theatre and for elevating lover and struggling actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton) to brilliance. But Morton doesn't really need the help she quietly mops the floor with the rest of the cast, especially Depp, who comes off as a cheesy poseur next to his razor-sharp student.
And while John Malkovich has a good time playing the King (while actually just playing John Malkovich), there's nothing else to recommend the film beside its cigarette-burn aesthetics. One could even argue that what's good about it accentuates what's bad. The look is constantly cuing you to content that just isn't there, making you notice that the alleged bad behaviour of our hero is about as scandalous as your average theatre student's.
At best, it'll have you panting for Morton's next role, or get you in the mood for renting Morvern Callar just to cleanse your palate. (Alliance Atlantis)