Back when I was ranking the movies you’d done with Tim Burton, I spent a lot of time staring at your filmography. In addition to your early pairings with Burton, there are some really fantastic films there: Benny & Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland.
Then something happened.
For the last five years, it seems you’ve been floundering, content to coast on the goodwill garnered by your penchant of playing “weirdos”. In your defense, Rango was fantastic and your cameo in 21 Jump Street was great, but the rest of your recent films? Eh … You weren’t the best part of Into the Woods, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick a best part of that overindulgent musical. Transcendence had a good idea behind it, but was poorly executed (I’ll lay part of that blame on first-time director Wally Pfister). Public Enemies couldn’t decide on which plot to give attention to. Alice in Wonderland was a bland mess. The Tourist was equally bland, but I don’t think it deserves the hate it gets. Same with The Lone Ranger; that film was just a generic action western. In fact, if any of these films had starred anyone else, they’d probably not even be worth mentioning, but when I see your name emblazoned above a title, I expect something good.
Don’t get me wrong, Johnny (can I call you Johnny?), I’m a huge fan. My go-to Halloween costume is Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing. In college, a friend had to record dialogue and sound effects over a muted movie clip for an audio class. He picked a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and asked me to provide an approximation of your voice to which I happily agreed. According to him, when he presented it, everyone in class—including the professor—was blown away by my impression. I’ve even dressed up as Captain Jack for Halloween.
So I’m not bashing you. You’ve got more talent than probably anyone reading this. Certainly more talent than me–a bowl of Alpha-Bits can create better sentences than me. It’s just that for too long you’ve been relegated to playing guys covered in weird makeup doing odd voices. You reached the apex of Deppy ridiculosity in Mordecai, hamming it up more than all the delis in New York. Jeff Goldblum couldn’t even save that movie, although now Paul Bettany is one film closer to dethroning Helena Bonham Carter as your most frequent costar. When I saw Mordecai, I couldn’t believe that you’d chosen to do it instead of allegedly doing Grand Budapest Hotel.
Then I saw the trailer for Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, opening September 18.
Faithful readers already know how much I enjoyed Cooper’s last project, Out of the Furnace, and while biopics aren’t really my thing, you look straight-up terrifying here. I realize that I just complained about your appearance in your last few films and in Black Mass you look like Powder’s creepy eczema-addled uncle doing a disturbed Christopher Walken impression, but there’s an intensity behind those blue contact lensed-eyes that I’ve not seen in over a decade.
It looks like you’re trying again.
I want to say that I think you’ve learned from your past misfires and that this film will be your comeback (a re-Depp-ployment? ReJohnnyVation? Deppvival?), but then I look at what you’ve got coming out and see a sequel to Alice in Wonderland and a fifth entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I’m hopeful for the latter because the directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, also did the gorgeous Kon-Tiki and because I love the character of Captain Jack (see above). That love for a character turns into respect for you when stuff like this happens:
Seriously, that four-minute video is the most heartwarming thing I’ve seen you in since Finding Neverland. So bring on more Captain Jack!
Look, Johnny, if I’m not there on opening day for Black Mass, it’s probably just because I haven’t gotten my Whitey Bulger costume yet. Don’t take my disinterest in the material as a disinterest in you. I was with you in the theater filled with swooning pre-teens when you did Secret Window. I stayed up late one night in 2004 to catch Private Resort on Comedy Central. I repeatedly watched a lo-res trailer for The Libertine on a dial-up modem and hunted high and low for a copy of the DVD. I’ll definitely see Black Mass, but don’t hate me if it’s at a matinée.
Anyway, don’t worry about me or any of your critics—you get to go home to Amber Heard, you lucky scamp. As for me, all this talk of your past works has put me in the mood to have a marathon of your films.
Always your fan,