Netflix’s new Depp-Heard documentary is bafflingly bad

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Depp v. Heard ★

A scene from the three-part documentary Depp v. Heard.Credit: Netflix

Too bad if you avoided the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial in 2022 but were hoping for a postscript that eventually explained the toxic legal car crash, because this popular documentary series fails that bedrock test. The headline-making celebrity conflagration between the former husband and wife centred on accusations of him committing domestic violence. Depp v. Heard doesn’t revisit the case, it comes closer to recreating it – the faults it belatedly hints at are bafflingly evoked across the show itself.

Compiled by British documentarian Emma Cooper, who has directed numerous Louis Theroux forays, these three episodes are almost completely shorn of retrospective analysis or expert opinion. The aim is to live in the trial’s moment, specifically the discombobulating version of the case that took hold through social media. The narrative edits together Depp and Heard’s testimony, putting it side by side to emphasise the case’s contradictory foundation, but beyond that simple tactic it struggles to provide clarification.

Some of the exclusions are baffling. Many of the matters heard in the Virginia courtroom had previously been tried two years prior, when Depp sued the publishers of The Sun newspaper in London for libel. At the London trial, a High Court judge ruled that most of the reports of Depp engaging in domestic violence against Heard were “substantially true”.

However, in Depp v. Heard, you can view the participants, and even taking into account the different jurisdictions, this seems germane. It’s as if Cooper and her editors wanted the simplest tale possible.

The story goes from testimony to the online commentary that festered around the case; a pro-Depp hashtag on TikTok accumulated 20 billion views. By illustrating the ludicrous, often biased commentators who were almost entirely pro-Depp – one is repeatedly shown wearing a Deadpool facemask – the documentary amplifies their coverage again, so that the ridicule and abuse is revitalised. Cooper tries to balance this with cautionary text screens about Heard’s evidence, but the lack of context becomes damning.

There’s a shallowness on offer here that plays to the cheap seats, with Heard often framed as a quintessential Hollywood starlet through clips from The Rum Diary, the 2011 film on which the two met and fell in love. Netflix’s true crime documentaries have often been little more than gory historic recaps, but Depp v. Heard is a contemporary work touching on the #MeToo movement and misogyny and should be better. It’s only with 12 minutes left that the story acknowledges reports that the online torrent was built on bot campaigns. Something so pivotal shouldn’t be the final twist of this documentary, but rather the starting point.

Do better, Netflix. Much better.

Invasion (season 2) ★★★
Apple TV+

Shioli Kutsuna as grieving former communications expert Mitsuki in Invasion.Credit: Apple TV+

Everyone knows Rule 1 of the streaming age: if you aren’t enjoying the show, move on. But don’t forget Rule 1B: you can always come back if the show improves. In 2021, I struggled with the first season of this science-fiction series, which actually took too long to get to the titular alien attack. Creators Simon Kinberg (the X-Men franchise) and David Weil (Hunters) over-compensated with the character development for five different plot strands.

The second season of Invasion is still studied in its pacing, but the circumstances have gained traction: otherworldly ships dot the globe, amorphous creatures infest some areas, and the atmosphere is being terraformed. The opening recap and a little reading can get you up to speed, with the four remaining storylines (RIP to Sam Neill’s sheriff) benefiting from Apple’s as ever excellent production values.

Different leads are stress-testing scenarios, with Golshifteh Farahani’s paranoid mother, Aneesha, trying to keep her children safe as civil order collapses in Canada. The stand-out, however, is Shioli Kutsuna’s Mitsuki, a grieving former communications expert for Japan’s space agency, whose invaluable contact with the alien entity now puts her at the centre of an Arrival-like mystery. Kutsuna’s performance, framed by trauma and wonder, is compelling. She earns this still unfolding series a second chance.

With trace elements of the X-Men franchise and Heroes, this South Korean drama is built around successive generations of super-powered individuals: the parents who once worked in covert espionage operations and their teenage children, who are hiding the abilities they have inherited behind a high school student veneer. Superhero origin stories are an overly familiar vehicle, but the tonal flips of this narratively busy series – high tension and silliness can be in close contact – keep it moving along as the plotting gains momentum.

The Winter King

The young Arthur (Iain De Caestecker) and High King Uther (Eddie Marsan) in The Winter King (2023).Credit: Stan

The latest British take on the legend of King Arthur begins with Iain De Caestecker’s young warrior and bastard son of the despotic High King Uther Pendragon (Eddie Marsan) being sent into exile. The plot moves from fifth century grimness, to idyllic young love at Avalon, and back to well-worn machinations. There’s the clang of metal on metal, but also someone knocks on a wooden door and says, “Got a minute?” It’s not so much a mess as an overly obliging carry-all, although Nathaniel Martello-White does add gravitas as the powerful druid Merlin.

Amazon Prime

Gerard Butler in Kandahar.Credit: Hopper Stone

Gerard Butler has been focusing on mid-level action films for a decade now, starting with Olympus Has Fallen in 2013. Several have been hits, a few have been rewarding to run-and-gun movie devotees, but it’s hard not to see his lucrative stint slowly receding into the mundane. What’s most disappointing about Kandahar, where Butler plays a freelance contractor for the CIA who takes risky jobs in the Middle East to pay his daughter’s college bills, is the lack of actual action. Contemplative is not the ideal state for a Gerard Butler flick.

Bored To Death (seasons 1-3)

Jason Schwartzman in the HBO comedy Bored To Death.

Running from 2009 to 2011, author Jonathan Ames’ HBO comedy about a Brooklyn writer, Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), who decides to dabble in private investigator work despite a lack of qualifications and experience, sat just on the right side of quirky. It had farcical intent and tapped into the long history – in print and on screen – of privileged New York eccentrics messing up but things mostly turning out for the best. The show also had another scene-stealing turn from Ted Danson, playing a Manhattan magazine editor keen for everything but his job.

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