Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce

MPAA Rating:  (for action/adventure violence)

Running Time: 2:14

Release Date: 7/9/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

It was only a little while ago that I endured the torture of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and lamented that movie's horribly misdirected attempt at camp. Now, we have Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a film that has camp written all over it, from its origins as a Disney theme ride to its scene-chewing leads. The movie has one, clear purpose, and that is to make a good, old-fashioned swashbuckler adventure with pirates, Aztec gold, and an ancient curse that does not encourage the mixing of pirates and Aztec gold. The film's virtue is to play the material seriously without ever taking it seriously—if that makes any sense. This careful balancing act is a difficult one, and, at points over the film's two and quarter hour running time, it seems prone to falter. And yet, amid slight stumbles, the movie's tone carries it faithfully to the end. There's also the help of innovative and tongue-in-cheek action sequences, amusingly nasty villains, and Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush sneering and leering with calculated and infectious gusto.

The tale starts (where else?) at sea, where a young girl sails with her father (Jonathan Pryce) and an experienced crew. She's fascinated with pirates, much to chagrin of the more superstitious members of the crew, so when a young boy is found floating near a ship that has is capsized and ablaze and he wears a medallion bearing a skull similar to the ship that destroyed the other, the girl takes it to save him from punishment. Many years later, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) has grown up and so has the boy, the local blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). He is obviously smitten with Elizabeth but finds it difficult to express himself properly when near her father, who would rather see his daughter married to Norrington (Jack Davenport), an up-and-coming member of the Queen's Navy. As Norrington proposes to her, Elizabeth, light-headed from her first time wearing a corset, faints and falls into the sea. Luckily, pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) rescues her, only to be arrested for his trouble. Later that night, a mysterious ship comes into port, and the pirates aboard ransack the town and kidnap Elizabeth .

The ship is the Black Pearl, a notorious and accursed vessel, captained by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Will is determined to rescue his beloved, even if it means receiving help from Sparrow. Because these are no ordinary pirates; they are undead—cursed for stealing Cortez' gold—and forced to live with insatiable appetites. The key to their freedom is to return the gold pieces and spill the blood of…  Well, actually, I'm not clear on the blood thing, but I do know that Elizabeth's blood doesn't work. It seems that this final piece of gold needs Will's blood, as his father was a pirate. Anyway, enough with the blood; the movie doesn't waste time explaining it, anyway. Sparrow rounds up a crew of scalawags for a rescue mission, and Elizabeth, the gold, and Sparrow switch possession a few times. There are a lot of swordplay and cannon fights scenes, including an early duel between Will and Sparrow that uses the entire space of a blacksmith's shop to its full potential. The highlight, though, is a sea battle between the Black Pearl and Sparrow's commandeered Navy ship. Sparrow's crew has thrown excess cargo, including cannonballs, overboard to escape the Pearl.  To compensate, the crew fills the cannons with anything available, primarily silverware.

After all, this is not, thankfully, a serious movie, but it is played like one. The closest the screenplay ever comes to succumbing to losing its tone is in the few scenes that involve Will's past and his relationship with Elizabeth. Otherwise, the film is lovingly silly and openly over-the-top, and the performances follow rightly along the same lines. Leading the ensemble in this vein are Depp and Rush. In other actors' hands, these roles might play as broad parody, but Depp and Rush have such sincerity and conviction in their performances that they are pitch-perfect. Depp is one of those undervalued character actors who escapes completely in his roles, and here is no exception. Sparrow is filthy but charming, incompetent but resourceful, seemingly stoned out of his mind but still conscious. Orlando Bloom makes a good hero, but his scenes with Depp are the most interesting of his performance. You can see Depp's energy transfer over to Bloom. Keira Knightley makes a fetching damsel who can take care of herself, and Jonathan Pryce's presence is most welcome. Rush, though, is the only one consistently on par with Depp, making an alternately sinister and satirical villain.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is fun—pure and simple. It's tailor made for at least one sequel if not an entire franchise (how else do you explain the subtitle?), but the room for expansion from what's presented here is fairly slim. That's just speculation, though, and should only be an issue if and when there is a continuation of this yarn. Oh, but what a ridiculous, giddy yarn it is. Still, how many movies about undead, skeleton pirates can you make?

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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