PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
**** (out of 5)
July 9, 2003
Johnny Depp as JACK SPARROW
Geoffrey Rusch as BARBOSSA
Orlando Bloom as WILL TURNER
Keira Knightly as ELIZABETH SWANN
Jack Davenport as NORRINGTON
Jonathan Pryce as GOVERNOR WEATHERBY SWANN
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
BY KEVIN CARR
Every decade or so, Hollywood tries to make a good, old fashioned pirate movie. But the problem is, with the exception of a few Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks films a long time ago, there really isn’t such a thing as a “good old” pirate movie. The pirate genre never seemed to catch on like horror films did in the 1930s, westerns in the 1940s or science fiction in the 1950s.
Of course, Hollywood is always yearning for films the way they used to be. A case in point is the overwhelming critical success (and self-introspective nostalgia) of modern musicals like “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago.” But the only similarity between “Chicago” and the warm and fuzzy musicals of the 1950s like “Singing in the Rain” and “Oklahoma” is the fact that people sing. The superbly dark and cynical “Chicago” would have had no place in Hollywood during the heyday of the movie musical. But that doesn’t stop the nostalgia.
The last big budget attempt at an honest-to-god pirate movie (and I’m excluding last year’s “Treasure Planet” because it was a mixture of genres) was “Cutthroat Island,” which was such a disastrous flop that it not only wounded director Renny Harlin’s career, but his marriage to Geena Davis as well. (And while the lovebirds didn’t completely separate until after “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” it was actually Sly Stallone with the dreadfully forgettable “Driven” that really rang the death knoll for Harlin.)
But, I’ll tell you all a little secret. I liked “Cutthroat Island.” And I also liked “Treasure Planet,” for that matter. The beauty of pirate movie is tat they really don’t get old because Hollywood just doesn’t make that many of them. So, while they always seem to be loaded with cliches, they’re not cliches we see every day. “Pirates of the Caribbean” has all these elements of a pirate movie – swashbuckling swordplay, walking the plank and even a scene where Geoffrey Rusch gives a good ol’ pirate’s “Arrrgh!” at the camera.
Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) is a young blacksmith that is smitten with Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), the daughter of Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce). One night, pirates invade their small village and kidnap Elizabeth. They are after an enchanted piece of gold she has had since she was a child because this gold can lift a terrible curse that has been on the pirates for years. In an attempt to prove his love for her, Turner joins forces with the bumbling pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to rescue her.
Although it’s a Disney film, keep in mind it is also a Jerry Bruckheimer film. While this excursion of Bruckheimer into pseudo family films is far better than the reeking “Kangaroo Jack,” he still has a lot to learn about making movies for kids. “Pirates of the Caribbean” is quite violent – not just with the gory skeleton effects on the enchanted pirates, but in the battle scenes as well. People die, blood is shed and the PG-13 rating is well earned. So, before you cart the whole family off to see it, you might want to check it out for the small children.
Johnny Depp continues to soar as an actor, breathing amazing life into the character of Jack Sparrow. Although shreds of Hunter S. Thompson from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” dominate his performance at times, he does a lot to carry the film. (My apologies, of course, to Orlando Bloom. Sorry, man. You did a fine job, and we loved you as Legolas the Elf in “The Lord of the Rings,” but you just don’t have the Hollywood “IT” needed to carry a film yourself.)
Although heroine Keira Knightly is breathtakingly beautiful, she’s also lacking some of the “IT” that makes Bloom fade into the background and Depp soar to the top. But maybe it’s not that she’s lacking the “IT” but rather she isn’t really given much to work with in “Pirates.” After all, she’s been lauded for her performance in “Bend it Like Beckham,” so she’s gotta be doing something right. Perhaps she’ll turn into another Parker Posey who is simply fabulous in her independent work but a huge snooze queen whenever she’s in a mainstream movie like “Josie and the Pussycats” or “You’ve Got Mail.”
Geoffrey Rusch, who plays the mutinous Barbossa, is one of the best actors of the day, perfectly happy to play off-the-wall characters like Casanova Frankenstein in “Mystery Men” just as much as he is happy to play more “respectable” roles like Javert in “Les Miserables.” But as good as Rusch is, even he doesn’t shine like Depp (no pun intended).
Depp’s Jack Sparrow is actually more comic relief than a dramatic scoundrel, as he is portrayed in some of the trailers. This movie is a lot of fun, like a good version of “The Three Musketeers” (read as one that doesn’t star Charlie Sheen). And it’s just so tempting to squint ye eye and let out a hearty “ARRRGH!” after seeing it.
Come on people. Let’s all join in on this one: “AARRRRRGH!”