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Laurence Dunmore
Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, John Malkovich, Paul Ritter, Stanley Townsend, Francesca Annis, Rosamund Pike, Tom Hollander
Writing Credits:
Stephen Jeffreys (also play)

He didn't resist temptation. He pursued it.

Womanizing 17th-century poet and all-around hedonist John Wilmot (Depp), the Earl of Rochester, befriends King Charles II (Malkovich). He dies at the young age of 33, after falling in love with aspiring actress Elizabeth Barry (Morton).

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$2.202 million on 815 screens.
Domestic Gross
$4.829 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 7/4/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Laurence Dunmore
• “Capturing The Libertine” Documentary
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Libertine (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 26, 2006)

Today’s fact: the ladies love them some Johnny Depp! I suppose somewhere out there you can find a woman who doesn’t care for the actor, but they’re few and far between. Even as he ages and enters his forties, his popularity expands.

But will all these women think quite as much of him if he plays an unsavory character? Perhaps not. Sure, his Captain Jack Sparrow is a sleaze, but he’s a charming, cartoony sleaze with a heart of gold. Not so John Wilmot, the role he plays in the period drama The Libertine.

Set in 17th century London, we learn that King Charles II (John Malkovich) gets back the throne after years of Puritan repression. This launches an era of liberalism highlighted by greater intellectual freedom and a lot of sex. It also means a mix of negatives as “the hangovers kick in”, so Charles requests the help of Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester. He gets called back to London after a few months of banishment for his insubordination, so he heads back with his wife Elizabeth (Rosamund Pike).

There Wilmot re-enters the sordid society he so adores. While he becomes reacquainted, he learns that the King wants him to join the House of Lords to help stabilize his reign. Wilmot also meets an attractive but untalented actor named Lizzie Barry (Samantha Morton). Despite her lack of ability, Wilmot takes an interest in her and bets his peers that he can turn her into the scene’s top actress. He works with her and sparks a romance as well. The movie follows Wilmot’s personal life along with his connections to the king.

During the movie’s prologue, Wilmot tells us that we won’t like him. Of course, this fails to prove true despite the character’s sleaziness. Depp embues him with far too much charm and verve. He even throws out some of Captain Jack’s insouciant attitude when Wilmot gets drunk, which is often.

Depp’s skills help carry The Libertine. Even when his choices don’t work – ala his befuddling turn in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - he remains interesting to watch. This proves true here as well. Depp’s choices aren’t always good, but he always does something unusual and intriguing.

Unfortunately, not much else about The Libertine manages to sustain our attention. The story meanders and rarely achieves focus. All of the elements related to the king feel like cheap plot devices. That side of things comes and goes without much logic and appears to exist solely to motivate some of Wilmot’s actions and choices.

And then there’s the main drama, Wilmot’s love for Lizzie. That side of things begins as a debauched Pygmalion and eventually turns into… well, not much of anything. When Lizzie spurns Wilmot’s affections, he goes on a long-term bender and his health deteriorates. Not a lot happens during the movie’s second half other than our view of his downfall. Depp allows himself to be made hideous as syphilis overtakes his character, but he doesn’t have much else to do.

That ultimately makes The Libertine a dull experience and a disappointment. The Wilmot character shows promise, and the film could have offered an intriguing view of the base society of its era. Instead, it meanders and fails to convey much of interest.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Libertine appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to unusual photographic choices, the picture offered visual challenges.

Based on what I saw, I believe that the film never used any artificial lighting. Everything appeared to be shot by either candles or natural illumination. This worked fine for the daylight images but made the interiors more of a challenge. That meant that exteriors always looked great. They showed nice delineation and clarity throughout the movie.

Interiors, on the other hand, were more of a challenge. Focus became iffy, probably due to the less-than-stellar depth of field caused by the absence of much light. The shots remained acceptably detailed but varied somewhat. Interiors also displayed a surfeit of grain, again due to the lack of light. None of these issues should be seen as problems, though. They resulted from stylistic choices, and the DVD appeared to represent the original material accurately.

Speaking of stylistic choices, The Libertine went with a tremendously desaturated palette. It took on a sickly green hue throughout the film and showed virtually no other form of color. This made it tough to rate the colors since the film only used green, but I still can’t fault the transfer for the visual design. It was intentionally ugly. Blacks were a little soft at times, though this also connected to lighting issues; the interiors came out as a bit muddy. Shadows fell into the same area, as the absence of illumination meant some murky scenes.

All of these stylistic decisions created a dilemma when I assigned a grade to the image. I went with a “B+” because I found the picture to suit the film and to accurately reflect the director’s intentions. When allowed to look great in exteriors, it did so, and the rest presented the visuals desired by the filmmakers. It’s a challenging image but one that came across as planned.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Libertine, it presented a decent affair, though a subdued one. Much of the time, the focus remained on music. The score displayed solid stereo imaging. Otherwise, much of the track stayed oriented toward the front channels. I noted reasonably good general ambience throughout the film, and some more heavily populated scenes – like those on bustling streets – provided a greater level of activity. The surrounds seemed passive throughout the movie, but they contributed an acceptable sense of reinforcement.

Audio quality appeared fine for the most part. I noted a few concerns in regard to speech, as some of the lines seemed somewhat stiff and reedy. No edginess occurred, but I occasionally found the dialogue to be a bit tough to understand.

Effects largely played a minor role in the film, but they always seemed accurate and well defined, with no issues related to distortion or other areas. The mix provided fine reproduction of the score. The pieces of music sounded bright and vivid, and they boasted fairly good dynamic range. This wasn’t a bombastic soundtrack, but except for some of the dialogue flaws, it worked fine for this kind of flick.

When we shift to the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary with director Laurence Dunmore. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. The director gets into cast, characters and performances, historical elements behind the story, costumes and makeup, and the movie’s visual appearance.

Dunmore mostly focuses on the historical side of things. Superficially, that sounds interesting, but unfortunately, the director often offers little more than annotated narration. Dunmore presents an awfully dry discussion of his film. Some decent material appears, but it comes out in such a ponderous manner that it never works as well as I’d like.

A 36-minute and five-second documentary called >Capturing The Libertine comes next. It features movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We find notes from Dunmore, actors Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, Rupert Friend, Tom Hollander, Johnny Vegas, Richard Coyle, Kelly Reilly, Rosamund Pike, and John Malkovich, writer Stephen Jeffreys, producers Russ Smith and Lianne Halfon, standby art director Lisa McDiarmid, executive producer Chase Bailey, supervising art director Fluer Whitlock, art director Patrick Rolfe, director of photography Alex Melman, candleman Erik Peterson, boom operator Paul Schwartz, sound recordist John Hayes, set photographer Peter Mountain, and third man Tarn Willers.

“Capturing” looks at the life of John Wilmot and its adaptation into the film, raising money to finance it and related challenges, and the story’s long path to the screen. From there we hear how Dunmore came onto the project and it got moving again. The show also covers Depp’s impact on the production, various elements of casting, performances and visual design, various location and production specifics, the movie’s look and lighting, audio concerns, and a general overview.

“Capturing” helps compensate for some of the commentary’s problems. It features a lot of information not covered in Dunmore’s chat, and it adds lots of good behind the scenes bits. This turns into a lively and entertaining program.

Eight Deleted Scenes fill a total of 15 minutes and five seconds. The major added component relates to a recurring nightmare Wilmot experiences related to war experiences of his youth. These are moderately interesting since they help explain Wilmot’s subsequent personality. The rest tend to be pretty dull and don’t bring out anything particularly compelling.

We can watch these with or without commentary from Dunmore. He provides some basic explanation of the sequences and how they’d have fit into the film. Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us much about why he cut the pieces. Since that’s the most basic requirement of commentary for deleted scenes, this chat comes up short.

The set includes the theatrical trailer for Libertine and a few ads open the DVD. We get promos for Scary Movie 4 and Lucky Number Slevin.

The Libertine casts Johnny Depp as a sleazier than usual character, but not one who manages to intrigue us on a consistent basis. The film squanders its potential and turns into little more than a meandering tale of woe. The DVD offers picture quality that accurately represents the challenging source material along with decent audio and some pretty good extras. Depp-philes will want to check out this flick, but I can’t recommend it to others.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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