IIt’s difficult not to be cynical when it comes to this two-part documentary that purports to tell “the inside story” of the Depp vs. Heard trial. It comes less than four months after Johnny Depp largely won his libel case against ex-wife Amber Heard, which doesn’t leave much room for perspective or edits. Given that coverage of the trial has already generated a staggering number of interactions on social media — more per article than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to one report — we really need more content that racy online commentators are chasing can feed? It’s not just a rush job, but one that looks a little gross.
But in reality, Johnny vs Amber: The US Trial is more professional than grossly sensational. A sequel to the 2020s Johnny vs Ambera previous two-parter about Depp’s failed defamation lawsuit against The sun, it adopts the same format: episode one tells the story from Depp’s perspective, then episode two delivers Heard’s side. We are only given a cursory summary of the earlier trial, which Depp lost when a London High Court judge found this to be the case The sun was entitled to call him a “wife beater” because Heard’s evidence against him was “essentially true.” Instead, we’re plunged straight into this second defamation case in Fairfax County, Virginia, centering on a 2018 comment Heard wrote for The Washington Post In it, she called herself “a public figure who advocates domestic violence,” without ever mentioning Depp by name.
Only Depp’s legal team has agreed to participate in this documentary, meaning Heard’s story is being pieced together by various journalists and legal experts who are believed to be well-informed but are by no means “insiders.” One of them is prominent American attorney Lisa Bloom, who has experience working on both sides of abuse cases: she represented three of Bill Cosby’s accusers and then acted as counsel to Harvey Weinstein when he first faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct was confronted.
The Depp episode has some revealing moments — attorney Camille Vasquez admits that convincing Kate Moss to testify on her client’s behalf was not a foregone conclusion — but mostly focuses on legal strategy. Given that Heard was found liable in all three of Depp’s defamation lawsuits and won only one of her three counterclaims, it’s not hard to see why his attorneys were keen to get involved. At one point, we literally see another Depp attorney, Benjamin G. Chew, congratulate Vasquez on her “masterful cross-examination of Amber.”
Episode two is more compelling because the creators are forced to take a step back. There’s a useful exploration of how Depp won the “court of public opinion” before he won the actual case, but it’s a shame the episode doesn’t elaborate further on the appalling misogyny Heard encounters on social media is. Still, there is at least one sad and brutal indictment against the online industry that has sprung up around the trial: Jessica Reed Kraus, an internet commentator who has extensively reported on it, admits that her approach is “less detail-oriented” than more traditional Journalism and “gossip is really good.” Overall, this two-parter is an adequate summary of Depp vs. Heard with flashes of insight, but it never really manages to justify its own existence.
Johnny vs Amber: The US Trial will stream on Discovery+ starting September 20th