column – Top 5 Johnny Depp performances

Because of a lack of new movies playing at my local theater, it’s time for a new Pop Eye column to overcome the drought: a performances top 5. It’s an idea I have been toying with for a while now, especially because top 5 lists and the like are all the rage these days. So, while it’s not a groundbreaking idea to say the least, I do think that it’s a nice addition to a blog mainly focused on reviews for recent movies and television shows: it allows me to take a look at some older work of actors working today.

To start this new feature off I’m taking a look at one of the biggest names in Hollywood today: Johnny Depp. This man, called a chameleon and heartthrob by many, has starred in a lot of movies and, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a big fan of his. Why? Because of the fact that, these days, he mostly seems to be playing quirky characters with a very similar set of tics and traits. Those performances are not all that interesting to me. Some, like his Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow or Sands from Once Upon A Time In Mexico, are perfectly entertaining, but most of the time these characters are cringeworthy and hoaky, like The Lone Ranger‘s Tonto or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory‘s Willy Wonka. While Depp is hardly the only one to blame and a fair share of why these performances don’t work for me has to donwith writing an direction, these turns won’t make it onto this list because I’m judging the end result. So now, without further ado, here’s my personal Top 5 Johnny Depp performances.

5. Transcendences Will Caster

Johnny Depp Transcendence - headerWhile Transcendence certainly isn’t that great of a movie, Depp delivers a turn here that’s both endearing and terrifying. His Will Caster is a brilliant scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, a loving husband and, quite simply, a humble man and warm human being. When he falls victim to a terrorist attack though, all of that changes: on his death bed he goes along with the idea of his conscious being uploaded to a computer, but with subtle facial expressions and the look in his eyes Depp tells you that Caster fears what’s done to him, that he’s disgusted by his research now that’s he’s become the test subject himself in a last-ditch effort to stick around for his wife. Post-conversion his personality changes even more: there’s a lot of darkness bubbling under Caster’s warm exterior, and slight changes in the tone of voice and his timbre tell viewers something’s very wrong. Transcendence may be a clichéd romp as I mentioned in my review, but Depp’s performance is nothing short of top-notch.

4. Public Enemies’ John Dillinger

Johnny Depp Public Enemies - headerMichael Mann’s Public Enemies, a film that tells the story of real-life gangster John Dillinger, was full of fine performances, but it’s Depp who carries the picture as a cocksure, charming and violent man who’s only concerned with the future, with where he’s going. Depp portrays the criminal as man who takes what he wants, whose mind is always occupied with the next bank robbery or with the woman he loves and wants to protect from those after him or himself. While the script is excellent and effectively shows us that Dillinger’s carpe diem philosophy brought him great joy but also put him in a lot of danger, it’s Depp who revels in this character who’s unwilling to settle down or settle at all. There’s always a boyish glint in his eyes, the joy of the thrill apparent despite Dillinger’s tremendous discipline, which made Depp’s turn a mesmerizing one.

3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’s Gilbert

Johnny Depp What's Eating Gilbert Grape - headerMostly remembered as the film that put Leonard DiCaprio on the map, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape actually featured Johnny Depp as its lead in a role as a young man who desperately tries to live up to the responsibilities life has bestowed upon him: to care for his obese mother and his mentally handicapped younger brother Archie. Depp plays Gilbert as a gentle soul, but he also effectively shows you the toll his life’s circumstances take on him, especially when his circumstances danger to thwart a budding romance. There’s a scene where Gilbert loses patients and snaps, a scene that’s tremendously acted out, as is its aftermath. Depp’s subdued performance and his chemistry with DiCaprio are essential to what makes this movie work so well, and why it’s still held in such high regard.

2. Edward Scissorhands’ Edward

Johnny Depp Edward Scissorhands - headerWhile Edward Scissorhands kicked off the string of many Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaborations, Depp’s performance here contains far more gravitas than the later roles that sprang from this actor-director duo. Depp’s Edward is timid, scared even of the outside world he doesn’t know about, and Burton’s film takes him on a journey of self-discovery and the road to self-worth. What’s so incredible about Depp’s performance here is that it strikes a wonderful balance between tragedy and humor, with many moments in which he gets to show off his comedic timing, but also gets to convey the pain and fear of an outcast, often all at once. Many of the later Depp quirks are still absent here, which makes it a more honest and touching turn, a very human one. It’s exactly what the film needed and Depp’s performance is the reason why the movie works so well.

1. Blow’s George Jung

Johnny Depp Blow - headerThis solid crime drama stars Depp as George Jung, a young man who doesn’t want to end up like his dad, a family man who works hard but can’t even make ends meet. That’s why George becomes a drug dealer, to become as wealthy as he can as soon as possible. Depp lends an intelligence, naivete and sweetness to this role of a misguided son who just wants his life to be better than his father’s was, and makes some very bold and stupid decisions to reach this goal along the way. Blow smartly decides to focus on Jung’s relationship with his dad, since it’s in many ways the catalyst to George’s behavior, and it’s these scenes in which Depp is the most impressive: there’s love there, sadness and pride, beautifully acted out in a mingled mess that makes it impossible for George’s dad to really reach his son. The fantastic acting by Depp, opposite Ray Liotta as his father, really tug at your heartstrings, because of the earnestness both actors convey. It’s Depp’s best performance to date and one that won’t be easy to top.

There you have it, these are my picks for Johnny Depp’s five best performances. Agree? Disagree? What performances of his that really moved or entertained you should’ve been on here? What choice of mine are you most baffled about? Please let me know and sound off in the comment section below.


4 thoughts on “column – Top 5 Johnny Depp performances

  1. While I would understand that the Pirates film aren’t you’re cup of tea, I find it however very strange that Jack Sparrow isn’t in your list. He really made that character iconic.

    • Thanks for your response, Michael! Personally I never really cared for the Jack Sparrow character. Too much of a cartoon for me and, again, very much like Depp’s other quirky types. As my list suggests I find more enjoyment in watching Depp’s more layered and realistic performances, but I know many people love Sparrow or most of the later Burton-Depp inventions. It’s just not for me.

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