In anticipation of Black Mass, where Johnny Depp is set to portray real life gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, I’ve decided to look back on my favourite performances of the actor’s long and storied career.
When you think of Johnny Depp it’s safe to assume that he’s most well known for three performances/characters. Edward Scissorhands of course, which is when the actor first began his longtime partnership with director Tim Burton. Then there’s his family friendly franchise character in Captain Jack Sparrow which Depp has played four times now, with a fifth in the works marking the most times he’s ever returned to the same role. Finally — all the cool kids remember Depp for his portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson in the insane Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
When I look back at Depp, he’s delivered a wealth of memorable performances and so many in fact that a lot of them get lost in the shuffle. I’m here to reveal to you my top five favorite Depp performances that people usually gloss over when stacked up against the mainstream favorites.
#5. Public Enemies (2009)
Depp is no stranger to playing famous real-life criminals. In Michael Mann’s film, based on the life of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger, Depp plays the part part accordingly: stoic, quiet and with just enough intensity to make you believe that he almost knew the guy he was portraying. The movie was a little long but it ran the gamut from Dillinger’s humble beginnings to his shocking end. Depp did a tremendous job stepping into the shoes of one of America’s first glorified criminal celebrities.
#4. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Remembered mostly for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Academy Award nominated portrayal as the mentally disabled Arnie, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was one of Depp’s earliest projects and one of the first truly great works that kickstarted the modern era of indie filmmaking. Depp plays Gilbert Grape, a young man who is forced to be the backbone of a very dysfunctional family. His mother has a severe eating disorder, his brother is disabled and constantly getting into trouble and I think at one point if I remember correctly, Gilbert is boning some housewife that he delivers groceries to. When Depp shares the screen with DiCaprio the two shine together in one of the most heartfelt and genuine on-screen pairings that I’ve ever seen in a film.
#3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton’s dark musical about the blood-soaked vengeance by shunned barber Benjamin Barker (aka Sweeney Todd) just might be my favorite film of the director’s entire filmography. Depp did all of his own singing, which is something people still give him shit for but I happened to dig his style and most of all — I appreciated the effort. Depp’s performance is stirring and uncompromising in Sweeney Todd and easily the most compelling horror work of the actor’s career.
#2. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
The third and final film in director Robert Rodriquez’ El Mariachi trilogy just might be the craziest movie of his career and this is the guy who did Planet Terror and Sin City. Depp plays the deranged and sociopathic rogue CIA agent Sheldon Sands in this modern-day ode to The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. He’s a villain, he’s likeable and best of all he steals every single scene. My favourite moment is when Sands reveals how he orders the same meal at every Mexican dive – puerco pibil – and that after he eats it, if he ends up enjoying it, he will walk into the back of the restaurant and kill the chef in order to restore balance to the country. Depp is off-the-rails crazy amazing in this highly underrated film.
#1. Blow (2001)
Depp once again gets into the mind of a notorious real-life crime figure in the brilliant Blow from director Ted Demme (The Ref). Demme sadly and oddly enough died not long after the release of this film after overdosing on cocaine, but that’s another story entirely… Depp’s performance as drug kingpin George Jung is in my opinion the best work of his career – not counting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The rise and fall of the most infamous cocaine dealer in American history is chronicled wonderfully here with Depp grounding the character as much as possible, so much so that by the end you truly do feel sad for this man who truly doesn’t deserve your sympathies. He plays Jung as a young and ignorant kid who rises to infamy eventually becoming a cocky renegade, all the way to his fall as a broken and old man struggling to keep his relationship with his young daughter in tact. It’s a beautiful and genuinely real performance from an actor who is known these days for playing eccentric and larger than life parts.
From director Scott Cooper (Out of The Furnace) comes the true crime story Black Mass detailing the exploits of the infamous James “Whitey” Bulger. Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Dakota Johnson, Rory Cochrane and Adam Scott, the film hits theatres September 19, 2015.
While his brother Bill (Benedict Cumberbatch) remains a powerful leader in the Massachusetts Senate, Irish hoodlum James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) continues to pursue a life of crime in 1970s Boston. Approached by FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), the lawman convinces Whitey to help the agency fight the Italian mob. As their unholy alliance spirals out of control, Bulger increases his power and evades capture to become one of the most dangerous gangsters in U.S. history.