Saturday, 24 July 2010

Best Actor 2003: Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Johnny Depp received his first Oscar nomination for portraying pirate Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a decent action film though there are indicators to how the series would  later go wrong.

Well here comes another one of my apology reviews, though I think for a different reason this time. I actually may not have re-watched the film when I did my initial review which would have been particularly problematic given that my view would have been infected by his lesser, though not whose terrible turns, in the first two sequels to the film. His performances in those films though are more akin though to my initial assessment though where I focused mainly on his most overt mannerisms as Captain Jack. In those later two films he mostly reduced himself down to the elements that Sparrow was most readily known for, and he slowly became more of a caricature of the original Sparrow as the series went on. That did not though give proper credit to his initial performance by any measure though which goes far beyond those mannerisms. What Depp does though in terms of character creation though also should not be hand waved at any point though. 

His mannerisms are of course rather overt in his Keith Richards inspired style. His drunk walking manner and his britishish accent all establish a distinct style to his performance, and of course obviously succeeded in making his character one of the most iconic in the new millennium. What that does here though is a bit more than just make an original character he also offers an original presence to such a film. If Depp had been a more stale Pirate, the film itself could have been quite bland, but Depp goes for his risky approach which does payoff. What his approach amounts to is more than just a unique character though. Depp's original performance is quite different actually in that he sort of weaponizes Sparrow's style both in terms of within the film, and in terms of his performance. Depp does not always play Sparrow, as what he essentially became in the later sequels, although his accent, and physical style is always evident to some degree, they are not always to the extreme they would be in his reprises.

There is a specific method to Sparrow's madness in Depp's performance here. Depp actually utilizes this in a very clever fashion as he realizes this as a certain con in the way he plays him in any given scene. For example when he is with the British authorities this is when Depp goes to Sparrow's most ridiculous style, but here he is actually specifically showing Sparrow pretending to be the fool in order to make the British put their guard down around him. In his initial scene with Orlando Bloom's Will, Depp again though plays with the style of Sparrow, this time making himself purposefully unwieldy playing up the way Sparrow plays tricks to knock his opponent off guard. Depp is humorous to be sure and entertaining but it is rather notable the way he gives a purpose to this. This goes even further even in terms of facilitating the performances of Bloom and Keira Knightley as damsel in distress Elizabeth Swan. The two can be bland, and are bland, but here they are also better later on as Depp's unpredictability throws their performances off in a good way. They don't know what quite to do with him which makes for some fun moments as he gets a rise out of them, and it's a shame that this dynamic was rather lost in the sequels, perhaps they got a bit to used to him.

What Depp does here though is offer a pivotal bit of nuance to the character of Captain Jack, he's not just a clown. Depp actually sets up that facade well to realize moments where he's honestly a little menacing such as when he discusses their duel later on with Will. He threatens him and Depp alludes to another side to Sparrow that suggests he is indeed far more than he seems. Depp revealing more to Jack continues when they encounter Barbossa played by Geoffrey Rush the chief villain in this film. Depp reveals more of a hidden intelligence in his Jack showing always working the room switching his game from collaborator, clown, to real pirate as an elegant dance. Most importantly perhaps though is when the situation becomes dire, Depp finds an actual gravitas when it is absolutely needed, it's subtle but it's always there. He's particularly good in his meek reveal to Elizabeth of how he escaped the island, or when he finally shoots Barbossa. Depp reveals the real man beneath Sparrow's act in those moments. This is a terrific performance by him as he creates a three dimensional character in Captain Jack Sparrow, even if he would be diluted to a two dimensional one later on.


Anonymous said...

I think he would be a 2 or maybe even a 1 1/ of my least favorites, in the entire category.

Louis Morgan said...

Ouch, I guess the mannerisms really did not work for you.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it was just the entire performance. Just a very bad performance, in my opinion.

Celso said...

I really don't get all the love for Depp. He is not a versatile actor and is always playing his roles the same way over and over. Some days ago, I watched "Ed Wood", boy, he wasn't moving his arms all over, but his eyebrows seemed that were going to jump off his face at any minute!
I'd give a 1, or even just half...

joe burns said...

I really liked him and would have given a 4,5/5. But I can see your points.