Look, we are all Johnny Depp fans. But let’s be honest, JD’s fanbase, magically doubling in the past couple years as it has, can be easily broken down into two categories. If you loved him as Wonka and Captain Jack Sparrow, but couldn’t name five other films he’s been in, don’t be offended when I say that this one’s probably not for you. The Libertine is yet another poorly lit, intricately costumed, Johnny Depp film shellacked in a thick coat of oily make-up. His movie From Hell springs most readily to mind as a comparison. As if to refute any misconception that his acting prowess is limited to playing a drunken, swaggering, drop-dead gorgeous pirate, in The Libertine Depp takes on the role of a drunken, swaggering, licentious John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester. And, yes, he does spend at least five minutes of the film looking somewhat unattractive, though, admittedly, they appear only after he has caught syphilis, gone partially blind, lost most of his nose and, for about two of them, is dead.
John Malkovich, playing King Charles II, does a good job convincing us that his character is as thoroughly boring as Rochester believes him to be and Rosamund Pike gives a startling performance in a supporting role as Rochester’s wife, Elizabeth Malet. Though, Samantha Morton, in a lead as Rochester’s lover, Lizzy Barry, genuinely leaves something to be desired. The film does, at various points, incorporate both a monkey and a midget riding astride a massive paper-mâché phallus. It seems almost unnecessary to mention Depp’s acting is alone worth the price of a ticket, as this movie appears to have been made simply to showcase his skills. Audiences will be hard-pressed to find another film which matches the linguistic vulgarity of The Libertine but, as always, in other categories Depp leaves his viewers, as much as his on-screen wife, wanting more. Despite daring the audience not to like him during the film’s prologue, I doubt that I was alone in coming out of the theatre unpersuaded to dislike him as well as reminded of the fact that Depp makes the films he’s in something to see, not the other way around.
Down In The Valley
Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, and Rory Culkin star in this modern-meets-Western film written and directed by David Jacobson. If you’re sceptical of any motion-picture that aims to question the human soul’s capacity for violence and compassion, while simultaneously starring Macaulay Culkin’s little brother, don’t be. The direction and acting found in this film are both rare and impressive throughout. All of that said, I’m not totally sold on circumstances like those which bring together this movie’s odd romantic pairing ever coming to pass in reality. The basic premise: a charming, if slightly bizarre, self-proclaimed cowboy (Norton) is picked up at a gas station by a bored and scantily-clad teen with a very mediocre home life (Wood) — swimming, making-out, and a series of events easily categorized as “the unthinkable” ensues.
Set in the present-day San Fernando Valley (southern California), this film is not more than a few hours from where I grew up. The backdrops range from the suburbs to the foothills, city buses to a nightclub and an abandoned Wild West town, and back to a modern housing development under construction. Being from ‘round those parts, I must say that every set was eerily authentic and the whole film, for me, became something of a bizarre tour de force of my home state’s geography.
If you can digest the moment when Norton climbs into the car with Wood your experience will be seriously benefited. There is also the matter of, I don’t want to give it away but, er, Edward Norton’s “background” which the audience discovers about two thirds of the way through the story. This comes out of nowhere and should, perhaps, have stayed there. Were the film on the whole not so near to a depiction of shock-factor perfection, these two moments would not likely be so troublesome. As it is, audiences might be well advised to get popcorn during the first of them and simply ignore the second; in so doing, they can expect to very much enjoy this unexpected and rather haunting bit of cinema.
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