Camera Loves Johnny Depp
While Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Ichabod Crane may not be what author Washington Irving envisioned in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it’s perfect for the big screen. Depp patterned his characterization after actors he admired greatly, including the late Roddy MacDowell. He also drew from Angela Lansbury and the movie Death on the Nile as well as from his memories of old Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone.
In this unusual movie version, Irving’s schoolmaster has become a New York detective, and Depp captures the role like a big game hunter bags his prey. Playing an investigator “pinioned by a chain of reason” who finds himself thrust into a case involving the supernatural, Depp uses every opportunity to show how well he understands the way this character would react in the late 1700s. Although Crane works hard at solving crimes, he’s not the bravest man in the world. Even the sight of a spider frightens him. And he’s not above using a child as a safety shield when necessary. Depp’s priceless grimaces tell everything there is to know about Crane’s squeamishness in the face of danger while trying so hard to be brave.
Arriving in Sleepy Hollow to solve three grisly decapitations, the scientific-minded investigator refuses to believe a vengeful Headless Horseman is the culprit. But his voice quivers when responding to a report about the victims’ missing heads. “The heads are . . . gone?” he asks in a tone that hints at loss of certainty. The Headless Horseman, who strikes again and again, soon emerges as Crane’s prime suspect. “Sleepy Hollow is the story of a man who lives in his head versus a man without a head,” director Tim Burton explains on the film’s website (sleepyhollowmovie.com).
Who is this ruthless mounted killer and why is he chopping off so many heads? Crane must deal with a group of strange townspeople and a few evil spirits before discovering answers to these questions. In the midst off all this horror, the straight-laced outsider finds romance with Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), lovely daughter of the richest man in town (Michael Gambon). It’s a treat to see Ricci (200 Cigarettes) in a different type of role. She’s all sweetness and light here, complete with long blonde hair and flowing gowns. Playing Katrina’s stepmother, Miranda Richardson (The Apostle) combines elegance and intrigue in the role of a nurse who has taken the place of her former patient. Christopher Walken (Suicide Kings) appears as the Horseman before losing his head. He is, of course, a wild man as only Walken can be. Among the fine supporting cast, only Jeffrey Jones (Ravenous) disappoints. His Reverend Stanwyck glares mysteriously at everyone but adds little in the way of dramatic impact.
Although filled with exciting cinematography, amazing special effects, wonderful background music, and beautiful sets and costumes, Sleepy Hollow suffers from repetition. Too many heads roll; too much blood gushes and splatters. Still, it’s worth sitting through all the gore to watch Depp in all his glory. Burton, who also directed Depp in Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, admits he likes working with this talented actor because he is willing to do anything. “I appreciate actors who like to transform and are not afraid to get messy, dirty, and dragged through the mud,” the filmmaker declares. No matter how messy, dirty, or muddy Depp gets in Sleepy Hollow, the camera loves him.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” for graphic horror violence and a scene of sexuality.)