Never has a made for television movie had a title quite as apt as Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial. The film is a dramatisation of the defamation trial that Johnny Depp brought against Amber Heard, regarding the collapse of their marriage, and subsequent collapse of their reputations as even vaguely employable actors.
The trial, you will remember, ended in June. The movie is out today, in September. That is a very hot take. Scaldingly hot. It’s arguably too hot. The whole thing has been written, cast, shot and edited in a matter of weeks. And this means that it probably isn’t something that you’ll want to watch if you consider yourself a fan of nuance or consideration or any amount of perspective whatsoever.
But that won’t be why you watch it. The film (free to watch on Tubi in the States, and invariably destined to wash up on Channel 5 at some point in the UK) ultimately serves just two purposes. The first is to act as more fodder for the ghouls who lapped up the trial when it was livestreamed on the internet, and who desperately need a new outlet for all their ugly array of soapy, feel-bad instincts. And the second is to be gawped at ironically, for its nonstop array of bad wigs and weird accents and cheap sets. If you like either of those things, Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial has plenty to offer. If you don’t – and hopefully this is the case – it should be avoided like the plague.
For the sake of this article, though, let’s assume that you do. The point of Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial appears to be an attempt to show the whole gruesome arc of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s courtship, marriage and divorce, as told through their differing accounts at the Fairfax county circuit court. We see their chemistry on the set of The Rum Diary, and the moment they picked genuinely terrible nicknames for each other (Slim and Steve, in case you had forgotten). We see Johnny Depp at his most charming and polite, and Amber Heard at her most chaste. And then, of course it all goes wrong.
In real life, by all accounts, their marriage was marred by a clash of toxic, mismatched personalities. In Depp we had a grown man scarred by an abusive childhood, who developed a tendency to hide his emotional dysregulation behind a cocktail of alcohol and narcotics. And in Heard, we had a woman with a reported diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. Add the deferred responsibility that comes with money and fame and it’s little wonder that the pair clashed.
But this isn’t real life. This is a television movie slung together in weeks, and so quite a lot of this trauma is conveyed via scenes where Johnny Depp signifies all this trauma by putting on a funny beret and swaying around a bit. Is this a true-to-life reflection of how things really were? We may never know. But also, of course not.
Which is another problem with the film. In truth, nobody actually knows what happened behind closed doors with Depp and Heard. All anyone has to go on are their testimonies, which were wildly different. How can a film like this ever hope to get to the truth? Basically by not even trying.
At times we’re just shown re-enactments of what each of them said about specific events. So, for instance, during the notorious incident where a room ended up covered in broken glass and blood, and Depp missing some of a finger, we see a scene where Johnny Depp loses his mind with drunken violence and beats and chokes Amber Heard. And then we see another one where Heard deliberately cuts his finger and he starts using the resulting blood to write illegible slurs about his wife on the walls. Either one could be true; fortunately for us they both come off looking like a pair of arseholes in both.
Interestingly, the film also appears to hate most of its own audience. Since the trial played out across social media, we are also treated to weird little Truman Show-esque interludes where a number of fake TikTokers lend a running commentary on the trial. One of them hates Amber Heard, one offers a more serious analytical approach to the events, and one is a comedian who re-enacts scenes from the trial in a succession of bad wigs. First, this last one is legitimately berserk, because it means that – during a badly acted reconstruction of real life events – we are treated to an even more badly acted reconstruction of the badly acted reconstruction we just watched. It’s like sitting through a version of Inception that has been willed into existence by someone determined to destroy your will to live.
But also, realistically, who is actually going to watch this tripe, aside from the exact people who broadcast their own running commentary during the trial? Mocking them as aggressively as this seems extremely counterintuitive at best.
Which isn’t to say that this film is completely without merit. If you want to see the Hollywood lifestyle reproduced on a shoestring – like the scene where Depp’s post-trial concert at the Royal Albert Hall is staged in a way that makes it look as if he was actually playing at the world’s most sparsely attended working man’s club – this is basically your Christmas. But, honestly, that’s about it.
Perhaps the moral of Hot Take: The Depp/Heard Trial is that quicker doesn’t always mean better. There is absolutely no insight about anything here. Realistically, it might have been better to wait a year or two, letting the fallout from the trial settle properly, before attempting something like this. Not least because, now that their careers are in the toilet, there’s a good chance that Depp and Heard would be up for playing themselves.