Johnny Depp did his best work ever in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, but he also unlocked all of his most cartoonish worst mannerisms.
By Nathan Kamal | Posted
Before being one of the biggest box office draws in the world, then one of Hollywood’s most problematic figures and now the kind of milieu he seems to be in, Johnny Depp was considered an excellent actor. . During his recent and notorious libel suit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, Johnny Depp admitted that the massive commercial success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise completely changed his life and career and it’s not hard to see how . After Captain Jack Sparrow entered the scene, his roles began to become increasingly predictable and wacky, relying on schtick and bizarre costumes and characters.
But strangely, Johnny Depp’s best movie actually predicted where his acting style would go: 1999 sleepy hollow, in which he played the 18th century police officer Ichabod Crane. The film struck a happy medium between Johnny Depp’s earlier career playing mostly calm, internally conflicted characters and his subsequent career, in which he battled supernatural monsters and wore a whole lot of makeup. In many ways, sleepy hollow opened a gate for Johnny Depp to the kind of overdrive that would eventually sink to the depths of Dark Shadows and Mortdecai.
sleepy hollow was Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s third collaboration together, following the 1990s gothic fairy tale Edward Scissorhands and the underrated Ed Wood. Technically an adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, sleepy hollow is no longer the pinnacle of all Tim Burton’s spooky influences thus far; it’s equal parts 1970s British horror, 1990s sensuality and Johnny Depp acting like a weirdo. It’s not considered pejorative, although it may seem like it.
Quite simply, sleepy hollow has Johnny Depp in his prime, allowing him to project the emotional vulnerability he displayed so well in What eats Gilbert Raisin and Donnie Brasco while having the bizarre mannerisms of Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s impossible to overstate how much fun a movie is sleepy hollow is, with its proudly contrived soundstages, absurdly gory death scenes, and Christopher Walken as the sharp-toothed undead Hessian warrior. But the film really belongs to Ichabod Crane, whose film revels in proving a cowardly fool every step of the way.
sleepy hollow cleverly installs Ichabod Crane as a revolutionary in detective methodology, who understandably believes that detectives should use logic and science to solve crime rather than tried and tested techniques of torture and guesswork. However, as soon as Johnny Depp arrives in the titular city, it turns out his rationality and belief in forensic technique means exactly the squat jack. Much of the movie’s nasty fun is seeing Crane get it wrong almost all the time, even as he despises superstitious townsfolk.
It also helps that Johnny Depp stars against a beautifully ethereal Christina Ricci and a collection of world-class character actors like Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid and Jeffrey Jones. Ichabod Crane seems just as freaked out by the crackpots of this village as he is the audience (as well as Christina Ricci), which makes him all the funnier as he slowly becomes one of them. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp would never be better off working together or being so in sync.
But Ichabod Crane was also a telltale sign of where Johnny Depp would go. He’s not as cartoonish as Captain Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka, but his increasingly frantic reactions to the supernatural are the direct ancestors of those characters. He might not wear makeup as much as Barnabas Collins, but Ichabod Crane’s arc suits and Hot Topic looks clearly pointed in that direction. sleepy hollow is simply where Johnny Depp had just enough success and on his game to pull it off, but before he got too far.
And then, way too far. Pirates of the Caribbean basically had the Walt Disney Company dump truckloads of cash down Johnny Depp’s driveway and asked him to play him to the rafters. With each box office hit, he was encouraged to do more, to do it bigger. sleepy hollow is both the best and to blame for many.