The Underseen & Undercelebrated Roles Of Johnny Depp’s Career

Features
by Rodrigo Perez
July 11, 2013 1:00 PM
11 Comments
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Secret Window” (2004)
Directed by famous screenwriter David Koepp, one of the most successful writers of all time when it comes to box office receipts (“Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Spider-Man”), the implausible “Secret Window” is so ridiculous that it’s a wonder the man behind it writes for a living. Late-era De Palma-esque in its ridiculous plotting, minus any of the visual panache or ironic tongue-and-cheek notes, “Secret Window” was evidently an old Koepp script that was greenlit after the fact in the twist-happy post-M. Night Shyamalan era. And it shows, as the movie is equally as risible as any of the “The Sixth Sense” filmmaker’s less successful works. Based on a Stephen King novella, “Secret Window” reads like a cheap, afterschool special version of a thriller; something that you might peruse at the grocery store while waiting to pay for your perishables. It’s a thriller, but an exceptionally silly one and again, what the appeal was for Depp isn’t clear. Depp plays Mort Rainey, a novelist recovering from a breakdown after he catches his wife (Maria Bello) cheating on him with another man (Timothy Hutton). Nearing the end of his divorce proceedings, he retreats to a cabin in Upstate New York to finish his latest novel. Suffering from writer’s block and depressed, his life is turned sideways when he is suddenly accused of plagiarism by a strange Mississippi dairy farmer (John Turturro), who then starts pursuing him for "justice." The man claims a story he wrote in 1997 was stolen by Rainey, but the author—who had a plagiarism incident once before—notes that his story was originally published in a 1995 magazine. Unconvinced, the stranger demands to see proof and keeps tormenting the man. When his dog is killed, Rainey hires an old a private investigator friend (Charles S. Dutton again) to help him out. We won’t spoil it here, but as “Secret Window” escalates it only gets more absurd and not in a good way; its concluding twist is essentially equivalent to “it was all a dream.” Perhaps the stupidest movie Johnny Depp has ever been in, audiences were rather cool on the Sony thriller too and it only grossed $48 million domestically off a $40 million budget. For Depp’s part, he plays Rainey as disheveled and confused; his hair always a variation on "extreme bedhead." (There’s likely something in his various contracts that says the actor is allowed to keep whatever hairstyle he has at the time, wear his own glasses and of course, always smoke his own clove cigarettes.) Critics didn’t take to “Secret Window” either, but it’s something of an injustice that it wasn’t up for multiple Razzies and Worst Movie Of The Year lists. Though we suppose that Philip Glass score is kinda nice. But either way, Koepp and Depp seemed to have got on famously, and are preparing to reteam for crime comedy "Mortdecai" which could shoot as early as this fall. Let's hope the results are a bit more inspired. [D-]

And 3 Underrated Johnny Depp Characters
Edward Scissorhands, Jack Sparrow, Raoul Duke in “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas,” these are generally regarded as Johnny Depp’s most beloved characters, but there are three others we really love that we thought we’d run down.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico” (2003) -- Sands
Robert Rodriguez’s trilogy-closing “El Mariachi” film is uneven, but there’s a playfulness and loopy pulpy insanity to it all that makes it much more endearing than most violent action films of this ilk. ‘Mexico’ is the most gonzo of all three films story wise and much of that is due to Johnny Depp. The actor apparently needed some convincing to take the role, but when he was given carte blanche to do basically whatever he wanted, Depp soon became enamored with the idea of running wild. He takes the role of Sheldon Sands, a CIA agent playing both sides in a plot to assassinate the President of Mexico. Sands is not only eccentric, but hilarious. “Are you a Mexican? Or a Mexican’t?” he asks Danny Trejo. A master of cheesy disguises, Depp’s Sands wears a catalogue of mustaches, crazy Terminator sunglasses, various stupid T-shirts, fanny packs, short shorts and other ridiculous and funny paraphernalia. Depp told EW he "imagine[d] this guy wore really cheesy tourist shirts" and had a "sideline obsession with Broadway." All of this was apparently Depp, and Rodriguez was more than happy to let the actor loose. Depp was so game for anything that on the last day of shooting when he was done early he convinced Rodriguez to let him play a priest that El Mariachi confesses to. Depp dons a cheap beard, a Brando-ish accent and boom, it’s yet another wacky role in this movie. Of course all of Sands’ double-crosses find him with his eyes removed thanks to another double-cross from a venal FBI agent (Eva Mendes), but what’s to stop a man attending a shoot out when you have a little Chiclets-selling Mexican boy to be your eyes? Depp’s characterization of Sands is loose, loopy and his enjoyably unconventional performance steals the entire show. Extra note: Yep, it’s a small-ish part, but Depp is front and center on the poster with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” -- Willy Wonka
Tim Burton’s remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was a commercial and critical hit, so we’re not sure how “underrated” this character and movie is, but there were a lot of major critics that disliked it (Sarris, Lane, Shickel, Turan) and we’re not sure how beloved it is in cinephile circles. And yes, Gene Wilder’s take is unforgettable, but so is Depp’s delightfully deranged and twisted version of the Chocolate Genius Willy Wonka. The pageboy haircut for one, the gigantic teeth and the reported Michael Jackson mimicry are all pretty hilarious. Wonka was always condescending, but Depp’s uber droll, patronizing contempt for the children and parents in the film is just too damn funny. Depp’s models for the films have been various and apparently shifted from interview to interview. Aside from Jackson, the inimitable Carol Channing was said to be one key influence, but so was apparently President George Bush. "I imaged what [he] would be like… incredibly stoned," he told Ellen DeGeneres. Captain Kangaroo and other various game show hosts were also said to be in the mix. Mischievous, fiendishly wry and deliciously disdainful, his Wonka may not be the original movie incarnation, but it is one of Depp’s very best characters. And while Tim Burton movies, especially with Johnny Depp, haven't been very inspired in almost two decades, this is arguably the director's last, almost-great film.

Before Night Falls” -- Bon Bon/Lieutenant Victor
It’s maybe 10 minutes of screen time, but Johnny Depp’s twofer cameo in Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls” is pretty unforgettable. In the picture, Javier Bardem’s openly gay Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas is imprisoned for allegedly abusing minors, but in reality, it was simply for being a gay dissident the government didn’t like. In the squalor of his incarceration, he meets two distinct characters. One is Bon Bon, a sexy and flamboyant drag queen who struts her feather boa'd stuff across the prison grounds and is known for her special ability to smuggle massive quantities of anything up her ass. Arenas befriends Bon Bon and gets her to sneak his letters out (there’s a hilarious scene with the character taking about a dozen rolled-up packages out of her rear in a toilet and it amusingly seems to go on forever). The second character is Lieutenant Victor, the cruel and slick prison warden who torments Arenas, going so far to force him to perform fellatio on the pistol stuck in his mouth. Both characters are played by Depp and the roles underscore his playfulness, comfort in his own masculinity and his utter versatility. Depp, who had known Schnabel before, did the role(s) for free and wouldn’t take any kind of salary. “[Schnabel] called and asked if I wanted to play a small part as a transvestite in ‘Before Night Falls,’ ” Depp said. “I though, easy enough, I only need to wear a bra and a dress; nice of him to ask me."

Well, that’s a wrap, but obviously that’s not all of Depp’s smaller, lesser-seen movies. There’s 1985 comedy, “Private Resort” (technically the 2nd lowest grossing film of his career, but he was barely a star then), a tiny role in Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and his film debut in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” John Waters’ “Cry-Baby” is also relatively underseen, but it’s also become a camp cult classic. "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" certainly made decent money at the box office for an indie that year, and it earned Leonardo DiCaprio a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and that gave it plenty enough attention to become a beloved classic later on. “Don Juan DeMarco” with Brando made $22 million domestically, but we’d be willing to bet it’s one of the films with a lot less repeat home video business than some of these other nooks and crannies. Your thoughts and or picks? Got a favorite underseen Johnny Depp movie? Is it actually good? Is there a performance you feel that’s underrated? Sound off below, and note this wasn’t meant to be a hit piece in the least, but upon closer inspection a lot of these pictures just do not hold up. Oh, and for one other movie that wrongfully sells itself on Depp's face: "Chocolat." A Miramax movie that he has a small supporting role in (it's Juliette Binoche's film), but that didn't stop them from slapping his visage front and center on the poster beside her.

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11 Comments

  • Tammy | July 26, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    Arizona Dream is worth a look. Vincent Gallo is funny as shit in it. Surprised he is not a top comedy actor in the USA as he is also very very funny in Buffalo 66

  • Tom | July 18, 2013 10:34 AMReply

    Johnny Depp needs pirate teeth, scissor hands or Wonka hats to be even slightly bearable in a film. Furthermore if he has scenes with a girl the film becomes uncomfortable as Depp obviously has zero comfort with women. And for the record, Vincent Gallo blows Johnny Depp off the screen in Arizona Dream.

  • Tom | July 18, 2013 10:33 AMReply

    Johnny Depp needs pirate teeth, scissor hands or Wonka hats to be even slightly bearable in a film. Furthermore if he has scenes with a girl the film becomes uncomfortable as Depp obviously has zero comfort with women. And for the record, Vincent Gallo blows Johnny Depp off the screen in Arizona Dream.

  • myk | July 13, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    Benny & Joon!!!!! Benny!

  • andrew | July 12, 2013 12:04 AMReply

    This is a perplexing title for an article, considering you didn't really like most of the movies in the list.

  • Kremintain | July 23, 2013 4:38 PM

    Seriously. "Undercelebrated" and then they all get C's and D's. wut?

  • yousef | July 11, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    "Depp has never been great at the straight man role"

    Oh really? go see finding neverland,public enemies,blow,donnie brasco and then lets talk.

  • Nah | July 11, 2013 6:00 PM

    @yousef aka qy-mgroor from imdb:
    he was not great in these ones
    neverland - kate winslet stole the movie from him
    public enemies - miscast, dull
    blow - he was good but not great
    donnie brasco - al pacino says hello

  • jimmiescoffee | July 11, 2013 5:03 PMReply

    I love The Ninth Gate

  • don | July 19, 2013 4:08 PM

    here here!

  • Harmony | July 11, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    Good list. I was just thinking about the Ninth Gate which is pretty decent, but as you say, not great.

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