Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review
By Joe Lozito
Dull and Crossbones
It is going to be very difficult to avoid dedicating the entire review of "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" to Johnny Depp. How many actors could save an otherwise average, overlong pirate movie from utter tedium? Mr. Depp, channeling Tyrone Power through a filter of Dudley Moore, creates a character so peculiar that you're hanging on his every line reading. Somehow, Mr. Depp manages to walk the line between eccentricity and absurdity in every scene and it is this balancing act, rather than the sizable CGI effects budget, that keeps "Pirates" from sinking in its own hamhandedness.
That's not to say that the CGI effects are bad. In order to support a plot that involves a ghost ship full of men who are revealed as undead skeletons in the moonlight, director Gore Verbinski and his crew have a lot of fun with clouds and well-placed shafts of light. The effect is flawless though a bit overused. Of course, there's no getting around the fact that CGI skeletons are just not very menacing. It's hard to take them seriously; talking mouths without lips just look silly. And since much is made of the fact that Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, also excellent as a good old-fashioned "Arrr!" pirate) and the cursed crew of the Black Pearl cannot be killed, the protracted fight scenes hold very little interest. Only occasionally do the protagonists find interesting ways to dispatch the skeleton crew, otherwise it's more or less a series of drawn-out, one-sided fights.
The one genuinely exciting swashbuckling sequence comes early on between Mr. Depp's Captain Jack and Orlando Bloom's stalwart Will Turner. As they jump from rafter to rafter in a blacksmith's shop, the two men seem evenly matched and there is actually something at stake. The scene also results in the film's one truly excellent line of dialogue, as Will is aghast at Sparrow's less-than-fair fighting technique. Sparrow's reply: "Pirate."
The biggest problem with the film is its length. All I can think is that Mr. Verbinski got greedy. The film should have been as quick and breezy as the Disney attraction on which it's based. Instead, the director and some members of the cast treat the material with a reverence that nearly sinks it. The script, credited to no less than four writers, is not an epic. "Pirates" is one of those Hollywood history pieces that seems to have gotten its historical facts from past Hollywood pirate movies. All the elements are in place: the ship-to-ship battles, the plank-walking, the damsel in distress. The bonny lass in question is Keira Knightley who played Queen Amidala's double in "Star Wars: Episode I". This being a period piece, Ms. Knightley turns down the Portman and turns up the Winona as Elizabeth Swann, the comely object of Will's obsession. Like her more experienced doppelgangers, Ms. Knightley mistakes over-enunciation for acting. This is not a problem for Captain Jack, whose drunken moments can hardly be distinguished from the sober ones. Oops, there I go again talking about Johnny Depp. Get used to that. He's all you'll remember from the movie.