If you’re a true fan of the Johnny, you’ll sail into deeper waters with him
So let me guess: You dug Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and its much-publicized follow-ups, Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Corpse Bride, and suddenly you’re all gung-ho about calling yourself a real fan. Of course, you’ve only seen maybe three other films he’s been in, those being Edward Scissorhands (1990), Donnie Brasco (1997), and either Sleepy Hollow (1999) or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) — and Gilbert Grape barely counts, since you only rented it to check out Leo after Titanic dropped. In other words, you’ve missed out on some three-out-of-four of the films Depp has had a hand in, most of which are where you actually find his best and most characteristically eccentric work.
This summer, the second chapter in the adventures of Jack Sparrow will, without a doubt, sail its way to a huge box-office showing and, as a consequence, even more moviegoers will be converted into so-called Depp fans. These people deserve your pity, because (A) they remain clueless about more than a decade of brilliant performances from Depp and (B) they will most likely not bother to actually add any of the films in which these performances are found to their Netflix queue, either. Don’t be one of the pitied. Rise up and declare today, “I am a true Johnny Depp fan. I’ve seen the good, the bad he was good in, and even the films in which he was goddamn ugly!”
Ed Wood (1994): Ed Wood marks Depp’s second collaboration with director Tim Burton, and this time around he’s even more whacked out than the pasty, Freddy-fingered Franken-teen he played in Edward Scissorhands. As the title character, the infamously inept, cross-dressing director of such atrocities as Plan 9 from Outer Space, he sports angora sweaters while imagining himself to be the second coming of Orson Welles.
Nick of Time (1995): When Gene Watson’s daughter is kidnapped, he’s told he has but 80 minutes to assassinate California’s governor if he wants her back alive. Told in what amounts to virtual real time, this taut thriller is pretty much the 24 of the ’90s and, even though only a handful of people saw it, you can bet 24’s creators were among them. As Watson, Depp offers nothing remarkable — except, of course, that this is one of the rare times you get to see him playing someone absolutely normal.
Dead Man (1995): As William Blake — no, not the poet — Depp earned his indie cred by starring in Jim Jarmusch’s black-and-white Western about a Midwestern accountant who makes the mistake of killing Robert Mitchum’s son. Now, why he would want to do this to Mitchum — who wept cyanide, according to some reports — is beyond me, but Depp shifts easily through this spiritual exploration of ... well, something. The movie is kind of a mess, more a work-in-progress than a masterpiece, but the chance to watch Depp go up against Mitchum is a hell of a lot of fun.
Don Juan DeMarco (1995): In Don Juan DeMarco, Depp plays one of history’s greatest lovers, and delivers lines like, “Women sense that I search out the beauty that dwells within them, until it overwhelms everything else. And then they cannot avoid their desire to release that beauty, and envelop me in it.” Anyone else would be laughed at. Depp, however, makes you want to make out with him — even if you’re not into dudes. Like Nick of Time, Don Juan is atypical of the actor, as he has spent the bulk of his career trying not to be perceived as beautiful despite the fact that Depp looks as if he were the live model for a few statues at the Louvre. He’s only embraced this part of his persona one other time, in Chocolat (2000). Back on point, though: Marlon Brando is in this, too. He sucks here, and obviously didn’t give a damn about anything other than his paycheck. In juxtaposition, Depp is bloody brilliant despite this being one of his more ho-hum performances.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998): Hunter S. Thompson kicked the bucket last year, but he was immortalized onscreen almost a decade earlier by his close friend Mr. Depp. This Terry Gilliam film offers up the sort of surreal, drug-infused humor at which the director excels and Thompson — who was made up of 67.89 percent illegal substances (along with a few cups of water, maybe) — wrote so well. But it’s Depp, his head shaved mostly bald, erratically twitching and muttering at breakneck speed, who sells the road trip to hell and back.
Blow (2001): Ted Demme’s last feature film before his overdose is another drug-fueled romp about George Jung who, while you’ve never heard of him, is pretty much responsible for building the cocaine trade in the ’70s. It tries awfully hard to be Boogie Nights or The Godfather-for-toddlers, but never quite gets there. Depp, however, delivers in spades as an opportunist who didn’t know when to quit. Sort of like Brett Ratner.