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The Libertine

Performances lift pic
By CHRIS WANGLER  |  March 10, 2006
3.0 3.0 Stars
UNASSAILABLE: Depp and MortonAlthough he enjoyed the patronage of King Charles II (John Malkovich) and the respect of the London theatrical world, the Restoration author John Wilmot (Johnny Depp) was better known for “the emptying of bottles and the filling of wenches.” In Laurence Dunmore’s unforgiving portrait of the artist as an expiring hedonist, Wilmot’s contempt and self-loathing alienate him from his circle and cause him to squander his writing gifts. Exiled for writing a semi-pornographic play, he dies a syphilitic alcoholic, his face covered with disgusting scars. The Libertine is hardly a great movie; Wilmot’s decline is overlong, and there are too many subplots and a silly epilogue in which the dead poet asks us whether we like him. But Depp’s complex presentation of “a man who pretends to like life more than he does” is unassailable, and so is Samantha Morton’s as the actress Elizabeth Barry, his would-be Galatea.
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