Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
directed by Gore Verbinski
starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush
Walt Disney Pictures
Every 10 years or so, we’ve been treated to a swashbuckling tale or two — the unfortunate Cutthroat Island and the hilarious Cheech and Chong’s Corsican Brothers come to mind, as does the more recent Buena Vista film, The Count of Monte Cristo. This summer, with another nod to their swashbuckling history — dusted off and super-charged by action producer non-pareil Jerry Bruckheimer — Disney has created one of the most entertaining buccaneer epics of the last 50 years.
Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl has it all — tall ships, swordplay, cannon volleys, evil pirates, hapless British sailors, a dashing hero, a gorgeous, gutsy heroine and Johnny Depp. Yes, that Johnny Depp — the fellow who has gone from TV heartthrob to criminally underrated, cult-film actor in a space of fifteen years.
This particular pirate tale begins with young Elizabeth Swann at sea with her father, the Governor, played by Jonathan Pryce. Amongst the wreckage of a pirate attack, they discover an unconscious boy; while tending to him, the girl finds a pirate medallion around his neck. Not wanting to send the young lad towards a mandatory death sentence, she purloins the gold coin.
Flash forward a half-dozen years, and the story continues on Port Royal, a South Atlantic British colony, where grown-up Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) is a bit wary of the life her father has chosen for her. The rescued boy, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) works nearby, toiling in a blacksmith’s shop making cutlasses, unaware of his heritage. Naturally, he has eyes for Elizabeth, as does Navy Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), whom she is expected to marry.
Enter Johnny Depp. While that love triangle is being introduced, Captain Jack Sparrow arrives at the colony in great style, sans crew or even a ship — his little runabout sinks at the dock. It very quickly becomes apparent that there’s something amiss with this pirate, whose errant gait and goofy mannerisms suggest that his brain is not operating on all eight cylinders. The Captain soon finds himself 20 feet underwater, saving Elizabeth, who has fallen into the bay. Predictably, Norrington rewards the heroic scalawag by clapping him in irons — from which Sparrow briefly escapes, only to encounter the pirate-hating Turner, whom he reluctantly duels in a cleverly-crafted sequence.
That night, while Sparrow waits for the hangman’s knot in a cliffside dungeon, the Black Pearl, a ghost ship, arrives in port. Loaded with bloodthirsty pirates and commanded by the ruthless Captain Barbossa, the Black Pearl attacks, bombarding the city while a shore party of kidnappers abscond with Governor Swann’s daughter.
Headstrong Turner, not satisfied with the Commodore’s methodical rescue plan, hatches one of his own. Springing Sparrow (who has a mysterious history with the Black Pearl) from prison, the duo set off in hot pursuit, with a commandeered frigate from His Majesty’s Navy as transport.
The adventure really begins from there, and the audience is treated to another hour and a half of inventive, non-stop action (well-patterned after the 1952 Burt Lancaster classic, the Crimson Pirate) mixed with laugh-out-loud comedy, courtesy of Mr. Depp. Pirates of the Caribbean is masterfully filmed, with a great special-effects device that will generate oohs and ahhs from the most technology-savvy of moviegoers. While the storyline itself is hardly innovative, the direction (Gore Verbinski, The Ring) and the performances — from Rush’s devilish, conniving Barbossa to Pryce’s portrayal of cowardly Governor Swann — are first-rate. Though her beauty is certainly an asset, it would seem that 18-year-old Knightley (last seen in Bend It Like Beckham) has enough talent for a long career ahead of her; likewise, young Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings), has a promising — if not superstar — on-screen future.
Pirates of the Caribbean, however, belongs to Johnny Depp; this generation’s answer to Peter O’Toole makes scene-stealing an art form as the devious, punch-drunk pirate with a heart of gold. Depp is best-known for his portrayal of eccentrics, and while his Captain Jack Sparrow doesn’t touch his take on Hunter S. Thompson, it’s enough to overshadow everything else that is appealing about this film.
In a summer filled with Japanese race cars, reality-bending computers, futuristic cyborg killers, and pink-sweatered girls going to Washington, it’s refreshing to go back in time a couple of hundred years — to the age of sail, sword and black powder. There’s nothing like a good pirate movie, and Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl is a very good pirate movie. Walt would be proud.