Few actors have more captivatingly slurred and stumbled their way through a scene than Johnny Depp. Ever since he hit upon the inspired idea to channel a fully loaded Keith Richards while playing Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, he has singlehandedly overhauled the image of big-screen drunks, proving that the right amounts of charisma, humor, and hard drinking combine to create a powerfully appealing cocktail.
This weekend, Depp will add to his collection of magnetic imoderates with his starring role in “The Rum Diary,” writer-director Bruce Robinson‘s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson‘s memoir about his year of living debaucherously in Puerto Rico. This is a project with particular emotional resonance for Depp, a longtime fan of Thompson’s work who befriended the father of gonzo journalism before he played a version of him in Terry Gilliam‘s adaptation of his most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Depp is far from the only actor to turn a character’s weakness for booze into a strength. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a Golden Age-era star who didn’t wield a highball with a kind of intoxicating grace or turn cocktail hour into a solemn act of reverence for a higher power. Then came a time beginning in the early ’90s, when Hollywood started treating alcohol as the disease it most certainly is, with films like “Leaving Las Vegas,” “28 Days,” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
Perhaps it has something to do with our sobering times of uncertainty that recently the pendulum has swung back in the other direction, toward a more functional and/or fun-loving brand of hard partier. Either way, we’re seizing this opportunity to nominate the five cinematic imbibers with whom we’d most like to share a drink.
Nick Charles, “The Thin Man”: William Powell turns getting hammered into high art with his iconic portrayal as the high society former detective perpetually getting dragged back into whatever starched-collar crimes his wealthy wife (Myrna Loy) stumbles upon. Not surprisingly, Depp has signed on to play the role in an upcoming reboot of this series of films based on the novels by Dashiell Hammett.
Miles, “Sideways”: Nobody ever brought more sophisticated panache to a midlife crisis than this struggling writer and wine snob at the center of writer-director Alexander Payne‘s adaptation of Rex Pickett’s novel. Played by Paul Giamatti with a pitch-perfect combination of pretension and pathos, Miles transforms from a dyspeptic curmudgeon into a hilariously persnickety romantic dreamer who becomes impossible not to love by the end of the film.
Withnail, “Withnail and I“: If ever there was any doubt that Richard E. Grant is among the most talented British actors, this film about two unemployed actors who take their nonstop drinking, brooding, bickering, and ruminating from their London flat to a country cottage that comes complete with a batty lecherous old sot squashes that doubt. This is required watching for anyone with a taste for the hard laughs of ”Monty Python” and the emotional warmth of early Stephen Frears.
Alan Swann, “My Favorite Year”: Peter O’Toole plays an aging former star of swashbuckling adventure films who turns up at a live TV gig completely smashed. Swann’s infectious combination of old-school stardom and wisdom infuses his time with the admiring young assistant charged with helping him dry out in time for the show.
Arthur, “Arthur”: Make no mistake, we’re talking about the 1981 version, starring Dudley Moore as the lonely drunken playboy who falls for a straight-talking girl from Queens (Liza Minnelli), not the abominable 2011 iteration featuring Russell Brand as a tipsy Willy Wonka clone besotted with a free spirit (Greta Gerwig). Moore imbued his Arthur with an infectious combination of goodhearted charm and a guileless lack of impulse control. What’s not to like?