It’s hard to believe that former teen hearthrob, turned bad boy, turned one of the most inventive actors of his generation, turned… tentpole flunky — albeit still in kooky roles — is 50 years old. Coming to prominence as a teen idol during his 1980s stint on the TV show “21 Jump Street,” Johnny Depp has been famous for almost four decades. But it wasn’t until 2003 and the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl,’ that Depp finally launched into the A-list stratosphere as an bankable star. ‘Curse of The Black Pearl’ grossed $305 million domestically and $654 million and changed his career forever (the collective four films have grossed $3.7 billion collectively worldwide). Before that, Depp’s largest hit was was Tim Burton‘s “Sleepy Hollow” in 1999 which earned just over $100 million domestically.
“I’m not ‘Blockbuster Boy.’ I never wanted to be. I wasn’t looking for that,” Depp said in a 1997 interview with Vanity Fair. At the time he had turned down Tom Cruise‘s role as Lestat in “Interview with the Vampire, “Brad Pitt‘s romantic lead in “Legends of the Fall,” and declined the offer to play the action hero in “Speed,” which turned Keanu Reeves into a star. While we’ve lamented what has become of Depp in recent years in our feature — “6 A-List Stars With Greenlight Power: Do They Wield It For Good Or Evil?” — the actor still has a formidable body of work to admire. But does anyone remember “The Brave“? Depp’s first and only directorial effort (which he also co-wrote with his brother) that hit the film festival circuit in 1997. The film received such devastating reviews at Cannes and TIFF that year that it never hit theaters in North America, nor was it ever released on DVD domestically (though it’s not hard to find if you really want it). Variety called the film “a turgid and unbelievable neo-western.” Screen International was even more brutal saying, “Depp’s ignominious directorial debut crawls across the screen for two hours like a snail. Narratively inept and dramatically empty…”
This writer has never seen it (though I started watching today), but distinctly remember a friend who was lucky enough (or unfortunate enough) to see one of the public screenings in ’97 and recall registering his disappointment and disdain for the film. Much more savvy then I was at the time, I remember him saying, “This is never gonna come out in theaters,” and he was right.
Starring Depp and his buddy at the time Marlon Brando (they had already starred in 1995’s “Don Juan DeMarco), the film also featured character actors Frederic Forrest (“Apocalypse Now“), Marshall Bell, Elpidia Carrillo, Clarence Williams III, Max Perlich, and Luis Guzmán and centered on a down-on-his-luck American Indian (Depp) recently released from jail who is offered the chance to “star” as the victim of a snuff film for $50,000 in the hopes the money will give his family a chance for a better life. Depp’s friend Iggy Pop composed the score (you can hear some of it below). The movie is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by American mystery writer Gregory Mcdonald and it’s a modern take on Doctor Faustus.
“[I have] a feeling that American reviews will be scathing. I’m prepared to listen if there’s a problem with length,” Depp told the LA Times in 1997, but rather than be forced to make changes, “I’ll put it in a vault and let it sit.” He pretty much did exactly that. Depp reportedly lost $2 million of his own money that he sunk into the film and never recouped. Unseen films always seem to build an air of mystique around them; an allure because they’re hard to find. So “The Brave”: gem waiting to be rediscovered or fiasco? From what this writer can tell of what he’s seen so far, the latter, but judge for yourself. In case you’re wondering, yes, Depp stepped behind the camera once more. He’s directing a documentary on Rolling Stones pal Keith Richards, but it’s still in the works and not complete yet. Oh yeah, Happy Birthday, Johnny!
“The Brave” soundtrack by Iggy Pop.