Johnny Depp has a penchant for playing outrageous roles. Over the past 20 years he has played a man/boy with scissors for hands, a pirate, Hunter S. Thompson, and Willy Wonka among other oddities. Women (including my mother) absolutely adore him. Men respect him. No movie star continually challenges himself or herself to the extent that Depp does and this is what makes him the most interesting and perhaps brilliant actor working today. So it comes as no surprise that Depp chose to play John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, a notorious drunk, sex addict, and poet in the court of Charles II of England in The Libertine.

This film is dark. Its gloomy. It explores the downward spiral of a drunken lothario poet who it can truly be said that as much as he loathed humanity, he approached life as a constant stimulant. The man was a genius and had he not had a drinking problem, he may perhaps have become England’s next Shakespeare. This is probably the riskiest role Depp has taken on because his character is someone you are not supposed to like, which he tells you in the beginning of the movie. The Earl of Rochester had very few redeeming values as a human being. He was mean, disloyal to his wife, a drunk, and just plain old nasty. However, he was also a man of wit who had a tendency to always speak the truth no matter how much it may hurt for someone to hear it. I think he was a man who may have been ahead of his time and because of this, he disdained English society for its lack of providing any challenge in his life.

Depp gives a wonderful performance that I think will become one of his most underappreciated performances in his career. His character reminded me in ways of a meaner and darker version of Captain Jack Sparrow. I did not dislike the Earl, but I rather felt sorry for what a wasted genius he ended up becoming. The physical deterioration he suffers from the years of drinking and getting all sort of venereal diseases is the only thing that finally redeems the Earl in a small way. This is seen in a great monologue Depp gives toward the end of the film.

John Malkovich, who plays Charles II, had originally played the Johnny Depp role in the stage version of this film. Here Malkovich lends his usual but great sarcastic style to the king of England. The king has a love/hate relationship with the Earl throughout the movie. He appreciates and loves the Earl’s talents as a poet and writer, but he hates him for the lack of respect and disdain the Earl shows to the Crown.

Finally, the always stupendous Samantha Morton plays a struggling theater actor who is taken under the Earl’s wing and taught to improve her acting skills. She is an angry young woman who, not unlike the Earl, lives only for herself. There is a great scene in the film where the Earl, who has professed his love for the actress and reveals his desire to make her his wife, is turned away by the actress to his shock and surprise. Its a classic moment of the tables being turned on the Earl and the cold, resolute manner in which the actress tells the Earl off is chilling.

An enjoyable part of The Libertine is the quotable dialogue the script contains. I appreciate witty dialogue and many of my most favorite films are ones with quotes that you always hear people quote. This film has PLENTY of choice lines spoken by the characters, particularly by the Earl of Rochester. There were times in the movie where I wondered whether these were lines actually uttered by the Earl or whether they were conjured up by the playwright, which if the latter, then I have a lot remaining to be learned before I can become a good screenwriter.

The Libertine is not a film that everyone will like. It is dark and atmospheric, mirroring the kind of existence the Earl of Rochester led. The humor is crude and the people who populate this world are unpleasant souls. England is portrayed as a hellish and unfriendly place. However, this is a very good film that is worth checking out.

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