Johnny Depp and Tim Burton: one of the great Director/Actor love stories of our day. Collaborating in many fantastic films, the pair are the second most profitable partnership in the world, second only to Scorcese/De Niro. They've had their fair share of stinkers and their fair share of masterpieces, and Sleepy Hollow is definitely in the top bracket. Along with Edward Scissorhands, this film is one of their most completely realised, beautifully gothic and cleverly subtle pictures in the entire list. When Ichabod Crane's (Depp) futuristic antics involving autopsy and scientific methods finally snap the patience of his town's authorities, he is told to relocate his efforts to Sleepy Hollow, a town being terrorised by a headless horseman who's hobby is decapitating the villages inhabitants. As he embarks upon his quest, he soon finds out that not all is as it seems in the sleepy little town and not everyone is who they say they are.
As an excersize in art direction, this film is amazing. Tim Burton crafts every image in every scene until he has exactly what he wants, and it pays off. The beautifully gothic images abound and are incredible. Whether it's the creeping, twisted woods or an abandoned paddock, he makes every scene look its gothic best. When he eventually rears his... neck... the headless horseman looks fantastic. Atop his suitably gigantic horse, he makes for a terrifying yet captivating image as he lops off a record amount of heads in quick succession. Burton's use/overload of blood is something else you'll notice about the film. There is a lot. Usually it's used in sarcastic situations, but there is an abundance of the dark red liquid. Coupled with Burton's almost grayscale colour palette for the film, the bloody scenes are even more stiking than they normally would be. Where in some of his films, his overuse of gothic influences can get a little on the nose, in this one Burton uses it subtly and startlingly at times, making for a much more enriching and hauntingly beautiful experience. This, above all other aspects of the film, makes it such a triumph.
The acting is... varied. Depp's Ichabod Crane is a campaigner for true justice, frustrated by the oppression of those in power, as well as being a complete wuss when it comes to the sight of blood. Depp's natural ability carries him over the line, but there is a lot of the pantomime which can occassionally become too much and he lacks the depth which he showed in Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. The fainting spells get a little annoying before the end unless you are completely wrapped up in the aura of Depp and therefore beyond reasoning. He does have his good moments, however, like his incredulous outburst after his meeting with the headless horseman, but his performance is not his greatest. Christina Ricci is similarly pantomimic in her portrayal of Katrina Van Tassel, though she shows more of a through-line than Depp's Crane. The pair work well enough together to create some sort of chemistry, though they don't progress further than a superficial level. Christopher Walken is outrageously OTT as the headless horseman, making big angry faces and hissing a lot, having far too much fun being completely out of his mind. Miranda Richardson is fine as the piece's femme fatale, though her character development does seem a little too jumpy to be natural.
The script is great. Whilst it's not full of memorable phrases, it is a lot of fun and usually suits the mood of the piece. Though the end comes around far too quickly and feels quite rushed in comparison to the beautiful pacing of the first two thirds of the film. It does occassionally resort to the simplest versions of phrases in order to save time and get the point across, but in general, the script is a sound document.
If you choose to focus on the flaws in this film, you're going to end up missing one of the most incredible bedtime stories ever realised by head-slicing action onscreen. Tim Burton's incredible art direction and sarcastic feel for the story make for one of the most enjoyable, darkly funny and beautifully designed films you're ever gonna see. A must watch for any Burton fan or film lover.
The horseman puts a church under siege.