July 26, 2013

Depp's other Native movies

Johnny Depp previously starred as an Indian in his little-known indie film The Brave. If these old reviews are accurate, The Brave foreshadows Depp's unrealistic, fantasy portrayal of Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

Review: “The Brave”

By Godfrey CheshireDirecting, co-writing and starring in “The Brave,” a turgid and unbelievable neo-Western, Johnny Depp offers further proof that Hollywood stars who attempt to extend their range are apt to exceed it. In this case, the main fault lies with the writing. Lacking both a realistic grounding and compelling internal momentum, pic wastes its handsome mounting and capable cast on a plodding tale that eludes either psychological or allegorical sense. Overlong and unexciting, it will be a tough sell in all areas except epicenters of Depp devotion.

That the story, scripted by Depp, his brother D.P. Depp and Paul McCudden from Gregory McDonald’s novel, supposedly takes place among Native Americans must be counted as pic’s first problem. There’s no specificity or authenticity to the characters; they’re simply generic modern Indians, which understandably could be taken as exploitative or insulting.

In this regard, Depp simply combines age-old Hollywood bad faith toward native peoples with the worst tendencies of two of his obvious mentors, Jim Jarmusch and Emir Kusturica, who often mask cultural condescension with arty pretension.

Similarly vague, tale’s setting is Morgantown, location unknown, a desert outpost perched on the edge of a huge garbage dump. With a wife and two kids, loser Raphael (Depp) is looking for a way out when a trip to town leads him to Larry (Marshall Bell), apparently a businessman. Promising work, Larry sends him to a mysterious figure named McCarthy (Marlon Brando), who meets Raphael in a dark warehouse and offers him a terrible bargain: $50,000 for his agreement to be murdered a week hence.
He also starred in the Native-themed movie Dead Man, though he didn't play an Indian in it.

Equal Status, Kemo Sabe

Johnny Depp Revises Tonto in ‘The Lone Ranger’

By Chris Wallace
Based on the novel by Gregory McDonald, “The Brave” follows this wastrel-with-a-heart-of-gold (played by Mr. Depp with a David Foster Wallace bandanna) in the last week of his life as he makes peace with his family and spends the $50,000 he has accepted to be tortured and murdered by a spiritual sadist (Marlon Brando). Though it had its premiere at Cannes and, as is typical there, received both a standing ovation and abysmal reviews, the film was never released Stateside. (I bought a Korean import on eBay for about $4.)

The movie isn’t terrible, exactly—it’s not good—but it does raise the question: Why? Why spend the celebrity capital (not to mention the financial kind) he had so carefully, if eccentrically, amassed to make it? To get anything done in Hollywood, even if you are Johnny Depp, takes years of often heartbreaking obsession, not to mention millions of dollars. So for him to step behind the camera to make “The Brave,” bringing a historically underrepresented perspective to the screen, suggests he thought it was worth the trouble.
And:So too, apparently, was Jim Jarmusch’s quiet little black-and-white western “Dead Man,” for which Mr. Depp reportedly turned down the lead roles in “Speed,” “Legends of the Fall” and “Interview With the Vampire.” After suffering an ultimately fatal gunshot wound, his character, an accountant from Cleveland named William Blake, is led through a spiritual wilderness and Mr. Jarmusch’s elegant allegory by an Indian named Nobody (Gary Farmer). Much of the poetry and tender comedy in “Dead Man” comes from Mr. Farmer’s post-Tonto Nobody, winking all the while at cinema’s “savage” past portrayals of American Indians.

Beneath the howling Neil Young score and the deadpan comedy, “Dead Man,” is, like “The Brave,” inflected with deep sensitivity to, if not reverence for, native American (and Native American) culture. But, unlike “The Brave,” “Dead Man” is a great film—possibly both Mr. Depp’s and Mr. Jarmusch’s best—the most significant entry in Depp’s catalog of Native Americanalia until “The Lone Ranger” rides into theaters on Wednesday.
Comment:  Depp didn't write, direct, or play an Indian in Dead Man but did in The Brave. Dead Man is considered great while The Brave is considered awful. I wonder why.

With his superficial and generic understanding of Indians, it seems Depp isn't qualified to make movies about them. Not if he has creative control, anyway. The Lone Ranger proves the point.

For more on Johnny Depp and Tonto, see Skyhawk: Depp Dishonored Indians and Shawnee Professor Justifies Tonto's Stereotypes.

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