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It would be easy to put Depp’s The Astronaut’s Wife in this position, a film also released in 1999 and a critical disappointment, but with expectation and potential considered, this thriller was a real let down. Depp plays Dean Corso, a rare book dealer who begins a professional relationship with book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) who claims he has in his collection a work that can summon the devil himself. A moody and tense build up leads to an empty and unsatisfying end that felt like it should have been much more revealing, especially considering how smart much of the story to the that point is presented. Some good performances and another effective directing job from Polanski give this so much potential but only ends up being a major letdown. Turn the page.
A psychological thriller based on a novella by Steven King, this well-acted film is about an author who is accused of plagiarism and then harassed by the writer making the claim. Depp plays Mort Rainey, a depressed writer recovering from a heartbreaking divorce and now suffering from writer’s block. He is confronted by a man name Shooter (Turturro) who says he stole his book and demands the ending of Rainey’s version be exactly like his. An intriguing story with plenty of mystery and creepiness, there are some good moments of tension that should have lifted this twisty film into a classic but instead, the film is bogged down by too much style and not enough substance. A decent ending helps it a little but the whole of the experience is off and even Depp’s weirdly amusing character can’t rescue this disappointment. Close the window.
Taking place just before World War II, the story follows a young woman named Fegele Abramovich (Christina Ricci), a Russian Jew whose father (Oleg Yankovsky) leaves her in 1927 to find his fortune in the United States, promising to send for her soon. Not long after, her village is attacked and burned to the ground though she escapes and makes her way to England with only a photograph of her father. While adapting to her new life is harsh, she soon learns the language and becomes a dancer, meeting a horseman named Cesar (Depp) and falls in love, much to the disgust of Dante (John Turturro), a singer and Nazi sympathizer. Much tragedy will befall the players as the story progresses in this overly-dramatic and hollow story that could have been truly memorable given the plot. Depp does his best but none of these characters have any depth and the story falls apart half way through. Wipe those tears and move on.
Depp and visionary filmmaker Tim Burton made magic with the classic Edward Scissorhands in 1990 and the two would work many times after but none to that success. With Dark Shadows, their eighth collaboration, it seemed a project that couldn’t fail with a quirky remake to an already quirky older TV soap opera, and a lead character cut from the Johnny Depp casting cloth of campy gothic fibers. Add the incomparably beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green, and this should have been box office mana from the cinema heavens but instead is an awkward, forced production that falls flat fast. While it looks great and the cast do their best, the script is unfunny and it never finds the satirical groove it should. Stay in the shadows.
So this will most likely be the most controversial pick for this list, being a mostly successful and acclaimed film about the life and death of infamous bank robber John Dillinger (Depp). However, while director Micheal Mann is one of the most creative filmmakers in the business, here, this true story is too much style and not enough street-level grit. While Depp and most others in the cast are exceptional and there is a lot compelling this forward, there is a hollowness to the overall experience that is especially frustrating considering the talent in front of and behind the camera. We never really understand Dillinger’s motivations and the harsh times he was living in, instead feeling distant and detached from the era. Public opinion varies.
Right from the start, this failed production had controversy with casting Depp as Tonto, the Native American companion to the titular hero (Armie Hammer) but that turned out to be the least of this movie’s problems. While director Gore Verbinski and Depp have done magic together, including the Pirates of the Caribbean films and the stellar animated film, Rango, this over-indulgent, excessively action-oriented film suffered greatly from a simple script stretched far too long by its special effect-riddled action sequences and oddly unfunny jokes and gags. Not too mention it was just plain dull, despite a charismatic performance by Hammer, who unfortunately seems to have lost the most from the ordeal. Depp conjures a few laughs but is simply off his usual game and seems miscast. Ride off into the sunset.
Easily the most disappointing film of Depp’s career, and I didn’t even mention 2010’s The Tourist, this science fiction thriller should have been one of the best movies of Depp’s filmography. The premise, about a scientist (Depp) who is on the brink of a huge leap forward in artificial intelligence, creates a near sentient computer. When terrorists nearly kill him, his wife (Rebecca Hall) believes the only way to save him is to upload her husband’s consciousness into his quantum computer. You can guess what happens next. If you said “ridiculousness” you are right. What could have been a smart commentary on the the predictions of singularity and advanced AI is instead two hours of cardboard characters, obvious direction and silly plotting. A huge letdown, this could have been one of the great, intellectual films of our times but is now just a forgettable potboiler that transcends nothing.