"Allow me to be frank at the commencement. You will not like me. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled. You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as we go on. ... I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me." - John Wilmot (Johnny Depp), The Libertine
Put simply, the Second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, is nothing short of a reprehensible cad – which is precisely why director Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine is so salaciously compelling, if narratively weak. Adapted from Stephen Jeffreys' play by the author himself, this is a film that explores the brief, carnally creative life of Wilmot, wasting little time in establishing a sly, biting tone (not to mention its cavalier attitude towards sex – Wilmot is seen enjoying pleasures of the flesh inside of five minutes).
Despite the prurient thrills of voyeuristically tagging along with Wilmot as he lives his debauched existence during the late 17th century (which, expectedly, devolves into a gag-inducing case of syphilis), The Libertine doesn't offer much beyond a sagging episodic structure, which finds Wilmot alternately entertaining and enraging King Charles II (John Malkovich), hanging with his Entourage-worthy posse of drunks and ne'er-do-wells, abandoning his loving, wealthy wife Elizabeth (Rosamund Pike) for the bright lights of London so that he can sleep around with a staggering array of men and women as well as taking on a promising starlet, Mrs. Barry (Samantha Morton) for both professional and personal reasons. The palpable atmosphere is almost as much of a star as the cast; from the distinct sickly hue of Alexander Melman's cinematography to the filthily accurate sets and locations, a tangible sense of time and place is established early on, lending the ribald proceedings a tang of authenticity.
For all of Dunmore's proficiency at handling this superb assemblage of actors, all of whom turn in respectable performances (Depp, in particular, is reliably excellent), The Libertine can't help but feel flat – Wilmot's journey as a human being is barely perceptible and at film's end, he inquires, "Do you like me now?" The answer is, of course, no, but you wish the film just completed had inspired something more than just cheap thrills.
The Libertine is given a grungy yet sharp presentation with this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Dunmore relies upon a lot of natural light (low light at that) and hand-held compositions, making this potentially troublesome material - it's to the DVD author's credit that the image, while retaining an element of dirt and grain, still looks as clean as a recent film should.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack gets a respectable work-out, with plenty of immersive scenes and the lovely strains of Michael Nyman's score filling in the surrounds. Dialogue is heard clearly and free of distortion, rendering an overall pleasant sonic experience. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The Libertine arrives on DVD with a surprisingly substantial array of bonus material, starting with a subdued, informative and ever so slightly haughty commentary featuring Dunmore. It's a dense, revealing listen, but Dunmore's tendency to say things like "I lived and breathed each performance" might induce stifled chuckles. Eight deleted scenes with optional Dunmore commentary, playable separately or together for an aggregate of 15 minutes are included as is the generous 35 minute, fullscreen making of featurette "Capturing The Libertine" with the film's theatrical trailer rounding out the disc.
The Second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, is a right bastard and shameless cad, whose life was a endless series of sex, booze and the occasional bout of writing – Johnny Depp gives roaring, grungy life to this debauched man of the stage but The Libertine can't shake the somnolence that pervades the narrative. Die-hard Depp fans might rejoice, but everyone else would benefit from a rental.