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Johnny vs Amber – The US Trial, Review: A lackluster look at a case that’s already had too much airtime

“There is no question that we have two justice systems in America,” says celebrity attorney Lisa Bloom in the lukewarm new documentary Johnny vs Amber: The US Trial. “One for the very rich and powerful and one for everyone else.”

She goes on to explain that Johnny Depp has “f*** you money,” meaning he has millions to spend on an all-star legal team. His ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, had to “make an effort to defend herself”. And perceptive Bloom would know. She made a career of representing women against disgraced Hollywood predators like Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly before switching sides. In 2017, it was revealed that Bloom was advising Harvey Weinstein — that’s the power of “f*** you money.”

For those of you who might have somehow missed it, Johnny Depp sued former partner Amber Heard for defamation in a Virginia state court in 2018 Washington Post Opinion in which she identified herself as a “public figure representing domestic violence.” She didn’t name Depp, but allegations of abuse were reported in the media during the couple’s high-profile divorce in 2016. Depp mostly won the trial before a jury earlier this summer, with Heard ordered to pay the megastar over $10 million — a mere drop in the bucket of “f*** you money.”

Johnny vs Amber: The US Trial is a hasty two-part Discovery+ documentary that literally takes the form of he said, she said. In the first hour, Depp’s legal team, which allowed the doctor’s camera crew access to their war room at the hotel, laid out their trial strategy. They also emphasize the fundamental importance of “Johnny” — never “my client” or even “Mr. Depp”, but always the sweet, over-personal “Johnny” – to clear his name. In the second hour, the series attempts to retell the story from Heard’s side, though her legal team declined to participate. Instead of people she knows well, Heard gets talking heads like Bloom doing rehab for her reputation.

If the title and format look familiar, that’s because the same production team came out with a different one Johnny vs Amber Series in 2021. This film covered the British lawsuit that Depp was suing The sun above a headline that called him a “wife beater” — a lawsuit the actor lost. The “sequel” consists mostly of footage of the televised US trial, none of which will surprise people who have been following it closely or, frankly, even from afar. Depp’s profane tweets and emails to famous friends like Elton John and Paul Bettany made the front page of the internet just a few months ago. And for all the behind-the-scenes footage of the documentary crew, little that happens there is newsworthy. We get a glimpse of Depp’s high-profile attorney Camille Vasquez persuading Kate Moss to testify on his behalf. Vasquez and her colleagues’ belief in Depp’s innocence never wavers, but on the other hand they know better than anyone that this trial – like the one in Britain – will not end in judgment.

It’s the second hour of the document, focusing on Heard’s story, that proves a little more revealing. Without hours of footage from war rooms, the filmmakers focus on the media circus surrounding the trial and even bring in some of the most-followed trial Instagrammers for interviews. (It’s not about being “obsessively” detail-oriented, says Jessica Reed Kraus, whose account has a million followers. “It’s really about gossip.”) Johnny vs Amber: Part 2 is less biased than toothless. It also contains little factual information, such as the definition of ‘slander’ or even a brief overview of what happened in the UK. I suppose you could say that the documentation isn’t “obsessively” detail-oriented.

Supporters before the US trial in Fairfax, Virginia, in May 2022

(Getty)

“You don’t necessarily want to give the jury all the answers,” Vasquez says to the camera, describing what makes a good case. “They want them to come to their own conclusions.” Your point is that the real truth isn’t as convincing as the truth you tell yourself. It works, of course, as an experimental strategy, but also as a prism for understanding this glossy document. Johnny vs Amber takes on his opponent’s frame not in hopes of finding out what really happened, but to ensure that each side is given at least a little hearing. Regardless of your affiliation, the series gives you just enough information to come to the conclusion you’ve probably already come to.

Johnny vs Amber: The US Trial will be available now Discovery+ from Tuesday 20 September

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/johnny-vs-amber-the-us-trial-depp-heard-documentary-review-b2168265.html Johnny vs Amber – The US Trial, Review: A lackluster look at a case that’s already had too much airtime

JOE HERNANDEZ

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