' ' Cinema Romantico: Finest of the 00's: The Movie Performance of the Decade

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finest of the 00's: The Movie Performance of the Decade

When? When did you know in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003) that Johnny Depp had left all other actors and actresses behind and gone somewhere entirely else, scaled some cinematic mountain most of his contemporaries only gaze at longingly from far below its summit? Was it when he chuckled in delight at his own hanging in rememberance of the time he "impersonated a clergyman"? Was it on the deserted island with Keira Knightley when he twisted the outer wisps of his moustache upward before indulging in the swigs of rum that knock him out? Was it the way he gingerly stepped forward to shake Norrington's hand when the British Captain tries to offer Depp's pirate "thanks"? Was it when he employed the words "high tone and fancy"?

No, you knew from the very opening moments that you were witnessing the Performance of the Decade. As it is written, his intro is a marvel, standing atop a ship's mast, the sun to his back, all of it awash in music worthy of an old Errol Flynn swashbuckler, and then the reveal! Depp's vessel is actually a little ragtag one, sinking swiftly, except he has timed it so exquisitely that just as the mast descends to the water line he arrives at the dock.

But look at the way he's standing there! It is so regal in its absurdity. Yes, this boat is going under, he seems to be saying, but I'm still the Captain of it, and then he sets foot on the dock and the way he walks is just, well, unlike the way anyone has ever walked in any movie that has ever been made. It's kind of a wobbly mince with a dash of a swagger and his hands dangle, loosely, effeminately, at his side, and then the British guy in the wig says "Hold up" and so Depp does and he turns, theatrically, and now we see him - really see him - for the first time. His garish clothes and lively colors and his eyeshadow that looks like it was applied by someone a lot drunker than he appears to be and all you can think is "Who is this guy?!" And he hasn't even talked yet!

But then he does talk! The British guy says "It's a shilling to tie up your boat at the dock and I'll need to know your name" and Depp says "What do ya say to three shillings and we forget the name?" But, oh dear Lord, the way he says it! He speaks in a way no one has ever spoken in any movie that has ever been made, in some sort of exotic accent that has never existed, never will exist, and all you can think is "WHO IS THIS GUY?!!!"

Oh, I could sit here for hours and recount the rest of his absurd line readings and heightened facial expressions but there are too many. There is mention about some time spent on a deserted island with too much sun causing Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow to act the way he does but consider that it is later revealed he was only on the island for "a grand total of three days". Nothing has caused him to be this way, he is who he is. We bemoan the lack of originality in movies anymore but here it is! Right here! There was nothing - absolutely nothing - more original in the movies this past decade than Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. REJOICE IN IT! No, it didn't win the Oscar but it doesn't matter. It transcends all that. (Though it should be noted he won the SAG Award for Best Actor. His fellow actors knew how good he was.)

And please don't be one of those people who immediately turns his or her attention to the insipid quality of the sequels that followed this movie. They were bad. I understand. I walked out on the third one, for God's sake, but they do not tarnish nor diminish his epochal achievement in the first one in even the slightest way. His work in the first one stands above everything.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" was a summer tentpole film, released in July, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, with a budget of $125 million and an earner of $635 million worldwide at the box office. It contained a plethora of gargantuan special effects, a smorgasboard of extras and period costumes, and employed a replica of an 18th century wooden merchant ship. It featured an Oscar winner (Geoffrey Rush), a comely young woman in a corset (Keira Knightley), and possessed a plot the size of Alaska. It spawned two enormous, bloated sequels with plots the size of Russia, the first earning over a billion in worldwide box office and the second earning $960 million.

And the only reason the first one worked and the other two happened was because of a single dude with eyeshadow and slurred speech who, if not for George C. Scott in "Dr. Strangelove", would have been giving the greatest comedic performance of all time.


Rory Larry said...

From David Denby's review of Sherlock Holmes

Downey, like Johnny Depp, has found a way of remaining hip in the most grossly frivolous and commercial projects—a quick wiggle of the eyes, a half smile, a beat or two of silence, and he conveys that he realizes it’s all nonsense.

Which I think is the key to Mr. Depp's success in the first film

Nick Prigge said...

Very, very true. Also, that quote makes me that much more excited to see "Sherlock Holmes".