I have two things to say about this movie, the rest is just going on about it. First, this is not a bad movie. I enjoyed it. I walked in with virtually no preconceptions and was not disappointed. Second, you will very likely not like this movie. My wife, also without particular expectation, did not enjoy it.
On both of these points. I did not particularly care for the plot of this movie. It is about a man on the backside of a downhill fall and by the time we pick him up he has already gained considerable momentum. Pretty much all of the truly dramatic moments in his life, good and bad, have already played themselves out at the opening curtain. Thus, we see none of John Wilmot’s successes at writing, (Okay, success. Only one of his works ever received any real critical acclaim.) or his military victories in the Roayal Navy. (Victory, anyway. He was much celebrated for his personal bravery against the Dutch at sea.) Past him as well are his “legendary” exploits at being a bad-boy. When we are watching we see Wilmot tossing about on the waves of iniquity?he certainly has no moral compass to guide him, but there seems very little else either. He isn’t really so much “bad” as he is?irresponsible. The one big opportunity he is given to display his wit and intelligence to the world (Wilmot is asked by the King to create a play to endear England to the French Ambassador) he deliberately turns south as a monument to his petulance with the entirely forseeable result that the production is halted almost before it has begun and Wilmot becomes a hunted man, losing everything he ever had. Think Sid Vicious with a much better tailor.
So what’s to enjoy? Well Johnny Depp for one is wonderful to watch, despite the lack of shine on the material. John Malkovich is really good as Wilmot’s King and father, and both Samantha Morton and Rosamund Pike are fun to see onscreen as they try to navigate Depp’s spiky character. One of my favorites was Tom Hollander as Sir George Etherege, a sympathetic friend who turns the tables on our flotsam-hearted Johnny at the end, finally making something good out of Wilmot’s life.
I’m glad I saw it, but if I had it to do again, especially seeing that I went with Lena, I’d have gone to see Failure to Launch instead.