Really, the word that comes to mind is this: why? Why make a movie about John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester, who died at the ripe old age of 33 of venereal disease in 1680? Why start the movie with a monologue from Wilmot going on and on about the fact that we won't like him, only to make an effort to redeem him at the end and offer up a closing monologue with Wilmot asking, it would seem sincerely, whether we like him now?
These sorts of character studies undoubtedly appeal to actors such as Johnny Depp because they offer an opportunity to play a character few audiences have seen before. However, the reason such characters are unfamiliar to audiences is that nobody cares about a guy who's hates life and sleeps with anyone as a way to pass the time. Quite honestly, the only reason I would go to see a film like that -- and the only reason I went to see this one -- is the potential to see a lot of naked women. No such luck.
Why is John Malkovich seemingly in every one of these movies? Seriously, is there a law somewhere that says that Malkovich has to be in every single film about sexual deviance? Here he plays King Charles II, who has some unexplained fascination with Wilmot and allows him to freely roam London after a one year period of banishment. Wilmot, whose reputation precedes him, finds an object of desire in actress Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton). Despite his protestations about not being interested in her, we of course know that he is. However, he screws up the relationship before it get going, partly because he has a reputation to uphold and partly because he pisses off the King to the extent that he must go into hiding.
A whole portion of the film is devoted to showing us the ravages of venereal disease in the 17th century. If that's not an evening well spent, I don't know what is. Another focus of the film: revealing just how muddy the streets of London once were. Every time there's a carriage going anywhere, there's mud. Then, when the people riding in the carriage get out, they usually have to walk through lots of mud and get really dirty. Can you see a theme here? Not too subtle, is it?
The last third of the film involves watching Johnny Depp's face turn into a piece of raw meat. Apparently, toward the end of his life, Wilmot's nose fell off or was rotted out or whatever. I figured this was going to be a good opportunity for some really grotesque CGI, but it would seem this movie ran out of money, as the best they could do was wrap a piece of cheese cloth around Depp's face.
This movie neither tells much of a story nor exploits the various subjects it covers, and in a movie about a guy who sleeps with lots of women and gets VD, that's a mortal sin.
To spread the word about this The Libertine review on Twitter.To get instant updates of Mr. Cranky reviews, subscribe to our RSS feed.