The Libertine | (The Weinstein Company, R)

The sordid tale seems to suffer from too many time gaps and plot holes. In Wilmot’s prologue, he states, “You will not like me.” Quite frankly, the opposite occurred; I actually warmed up to Depp’s portrayal more so than any other actor in the film.

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Finally, after all this time, Laurence Dunmore’s 2004 movie The Libertine will be released for public consumption. After massive scheduling delays, we will be subjected to the erotic story of the unconscionable poet John Wilmot (Johnny Depp) who not only toyed with 17th century royals, but also inadvertently took hedonism to new heights.

The backdrop to the story is the Restoration-era England, which finds King Charles II (John Malkovich) in dire need of monetary support from his own countrymen. While he looks outside of his own country to secure financing, he also tries to coerce the influential Wilmot to help gain favor with his own politicians.

The story is a long look at Wilmot’s ability to woo both men and women while he writes a salacious play to appease the French dignitaries for King Charles II. But wait—there is a love interest. Enter Elizabeth Barry (Samantha Morton), a local actress who is in dire need of some acting lessons. As this convenient plot point unfolds, Wilmot offers his theatrical skills to Barry to help her become the toast of the London theater community. In the end, after his closest confidants—as well as his health—betray him, Wilmot is forced to live out his days in illness, squalor, and shame.

While the story seems straightforward enough, Dunmore murks things up by not giving the story any sense of continuity. The sordid tale seems to suffer from too many time gaps and plot holes. In Wilmot’s prologue, he states, “You will not like me.” Quite frankly, the opposite occurred; I actually warmed up to Depp’s portrayal more so than any other actor in the film. Perhaps Depp’s real-life bad boy image makes Wilmot’s outrageous shenanigans pale in comparison. Malkovich seemed bored in his role. His portrayal of King Charles II came off bland and nondescript. Morton managed to stand out among the female actors, but even she seemed washed out at times.

The dialogue in the film droned on far too long to keep the viewer interested. About two thirds of the way through the film, just when I thought I had a handle on things, Dunmore fell asleep at the wheel, as his film derailed with a collage of unrelated scenes that kept me scratching my head. When Wilmot hits the skids, so does the storytelling. For some reason, Wilmot commits a nonsensical murder, contracts a deadly disease, then fights for a last hurrah as his physical body deteriorates. There is a whole section of the movie that feels as if Dunmore ran out of film and decided to stitch together some scenes previously destined for the cutting-room floor.

The Libertine could have been a tawdry romp through the age of enlightenment but ended up becoming a boorish, sloppy story of a lecherous scoundrel who was legendary for not much more than not being able to keep it in his pants. Oh, the horror.

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