Johnny Depp has made a career of playing oddball characters that stand out more for their uniqueness than their believability. As I say this, he also gets notices for playing real life characters as well who tug at your heartstrings. He got nominations for Academy Awards for playing both types of characters. But it’s been several years since he took a role that got him any type of positive attention. In fact, people know him more for his personal issues and real life drama as of late than anything he does professionally. All that is about to change however, as his role as W. Eugene Smith in the new film Minamata is one of the his best.
Minamata tells the true story of war photographer W. Eugene Smith (Depp) who is called upon to cover one last story. The people in small coastal communities in Japan are becoming sick or dying by poison. A big corporation who is polluting their water supply with mercury as they manufacture dangerous chemicals. Smith is a damaged man, whose hard life has caught up with him, but the people of the Japanese communities believe his connections and his photographic eye can help them tell the world of their problem. The story isn’t an easy one to face, but Smith has the integrity to do it, even if his biggest enemy ends up being himself.
The story in Minamata is one that can be found all across the globe. Big business pushing the little guy down to get what they want. In this case however, the businesses and their greed are hurting people, including children. What’s even more devastating is that even though this story takes place in the early 1970’s, the Japanese government hasn’t fully resolved the problems that big businesses cause. Johnny Depp truly shines in this film, giving a depth to his character that he hasn’t done in several years.
He looks haggard and rough, like a man at the end of his rope, and unlike some of his other films he doesn’t overshadow the story. He plays his character as a man who sees devastation and captures it with his camera, these images breaking him. This is exactly what he needed to do. The film itself its images like beautiful pieces of art. It feels like a living, breathing photograph that tells its story with images instead of words.
Minamata can be hard to watch at times, especially when you see the torment the poor people have had to go through, but it tells a story that is important to see. Even if a few tears fall during the film, they fall with purpose. Minamata is one of the best films to come out this year so far.