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Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Over 3000 Islands of Paradise -- For Some its A Blessing -- For Others... Its A Curse.

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 143 minutes

UK Certificate: 12A

To some, Gore Verbinski will always be remembered as the man who came up with the Budweiser frogs, but he is also a highly versatile Hollywood director whose filmography – the children’s comedy of ‘Mousehunt’, the romantic criminal capers of ‘The Mexican’, the science fiction of ‘The Time Machine’ and the recycled horror of ‘The Ring’ – demonstrates an ability to work in all manner of genres. Now he has turned his hand to revitalising one of the oldest, hammiest, campest genres there is – the pirate movie. Of course there have been half-hearted attempts BG (Before Gore) to reenter these dangerous waters – ‘Hook’, ‘Cutthroat Island’ – but unlike those lily-livered predecessors, Verbinski’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl’ is good enough to make even the harshest critics buckle their swashes and shiver their timbers. Indeed, once ‘Pirates…’ has got under full sail, only ‘The Princess Bride’ has a chance of keeping up with it – its winning combination of adventure, romance, fantasy, horror and comedy leaves all other competition in its wake.

Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his (literal) skeleton crew of pirates need to find only one last coin of sacred aztec gold in order to lift a curse which damns them eternally to insatiable appetites. When they seize the coin along with the governor’s daughter Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), foundling Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) goes after them to get Elizabeth back, helped by the eccentric Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who wants to recover his ship, the Black Pearl, from Barbossa, and who knows a thing or two about piracy. Caught between Elizabeth’s father (Jonathan Pryce) and her pirate-hunting fiance (Jack Davenport) on the one hand, and a gang of wraithlike, invulnerable cutthroats on the other, the only things which can save Will, Jack and Elizabeth from a watery grave are the laws of parlay, the wiles of trickery, and some good old-fashioned deeds of derring-do.

Stretching all the most absurd elements of its genre to their very limit, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ manages to be both a great yarn and a parody of one, so that it will appeal to children and adults alike. Orlando Bloom is suitably dashing, Keira Knightley takes a decidedly feminist stance on bodice-ripping, but in this film all the leads (with the OTT exception of Rush) are playing straight to Johnny Depp’s crooked Jack Sparrow. Depp, who has built an entire career from his oddball rôles, here puts in an enthrallingly mercurial performance which carries the whole film, and which deserves an Academy Award for its sly, jittery freakiness.

The look of ghostly Barbossa and his flesh-and-bone crew comes straight out of the comic ‘Evil Dead’ sequels, and is similarly played as much for laughs as for horror, so that even at its most macabre, when Gore Verbinski gets to live up to his forename, ‘Pirates…’ never allows its sense of fun to walk the plank. A great summer treat.

Also at Movie Gazette, the review Of Pirates by Gary Panton.

It's Got: Swashbuckling, bodice-ripping, plank-walking, treasure-hunting, rum-drinking, parrot-talking - and ghostbusting.

It Needs: Even more scenes of MacKenzie Crook (best known as Gareth from The Office) having to chase his errant false eye.


An entertaining film with something for all ages – and Johnny Depp's best ever performance