A “libertine,” according to Merriam-Webster, is a person who is unrestrained by convention or morality. That would probably explain why The Libertine’s titular character, playwright John Wilmot, known around the way as the second Earl of Rochester, declares in a protracted opening monologue, “You will not like me.” Always a nice way to establish a protagonist, but, hell, he’s right. By the time the licentious lout’s chronicle wraps, he authors a play John Waters would wet himself over, shares the stage with a giant dildo, pisses off his king (who happens to be his patron), and perishes from a mélange of syphilis, booze, and bizarre career moves. The only redeemable thing about the letch is the actor who plays him, Johnny Depp. Here, the poor guy is expected to make an otherwise dull movie interesting through his performance alone. He did it for Pirates of the Caribbean. Why not here, too?
Unfortunately, not even a spoonful of Depp can make this gobbledygook go down. First-time helmer Laurence Dunmore’s direction is some of the most inept you will ever experience from a movie not distributed by Troma Entertainment: The incessantly muddy and underlit locations, grainy and murky cinematography, and haphazard editing makes following the action often entirely impossible, which leaves only the poorly mixed sound to help not clear things up. Then there’s the makeup, which looks like what a teenager would smear on his face before hitting a Halloween costume party. And don’t forget the climactic scene in the House of Lords, in which Wilmot sports a strap-on nose to replace the one that fell off; it’s shot like a homemade music video from the early-’90s New York underground, right down to the focusing issues. The fact that Dunmore has been attached to direct the now-floundering James Frey “memoir” A Million Little Pieces sounds like just punishment for even contemplating a full-time filmmaking career.
Oh, Johnny, what were you thinking? Sure, the budget fell apart. Sure, Miramax shelved the project for almost two years. Sure, maybe you were duped into believing Dunmore had some talent after a long night of boozing. But that doesn’t explain why you thought this indecipherable hogwash would fly, even if you got another chance to put on a wig. Your performance is so deliciously campy, so it’s hard to fault you for giving it your best try, but you deserve better than this.