by Natasha Theobald
In the vast sea of underwhelming summer action extravaganzas, there was but one shining gem on the horizon for me. I love pirates, and, even though this movie came about because of a Disney ride, I wasn't going to let that keep me from enjoying it, for whatever it was. The fact that it is so worth seeing, however, is sugar-spun icing on a most deliciously sensuous cake. I must have pirate blood in me, because I am greedy for more.Johnny Depp is Captain Jack Sparrow, a pirate without a ship. We meet him when he is trying to commandeer a vessel, and, though he is cunning and crafty, he is not enough to overcome a whole town set against him. He is put in jail to await his hanging party, but, before that can happen, the town is attacked by pirates. The governor's daughter, Elizabeth (Keira Knightly), is kidnapped, and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the lowly blacksmith who loves her from afar, springs Captain Jack in the hopes that he will know the best way to overtake the pirates and rescue his love. Will hates pirates in general, but he needs this one, specifically, to aid him in his quest.
"I love it when you swashbuckle, baby!"
As luck would have it, Captain Jack is familiar with Elizabeth's captors, as they are the same men whose mutiny left him for dead on an uncharted isle. His former first mate is now Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and his former crew is now cursed, having stolen the Cortez gold. It seems these boys chose the wrong booty to boost, and, until they are able to return it, along with blood penance, they are cursed to live without truly living. Only in the moonlight can their true nature be seen; they are skeletons -- always starving but never allowed to eat, always thirsty with no way to drink. It is a sort of poetic justice.
This is only where the story begins. Fortunes shift and change, battles are hard fought, and Will, the pirate disliker, becomes Will, the guy with some good pirate skills. The whole is an adventure of a grand and vivacious nature, full of swordplay and skill, sharp wit and true love. While rapturous about the life of a pirate, Captain Jack tells Will that it isn't about the gold or the glory. His choice in life is about freedom, as broad as the vast horizon. And, that is what this movie gives you, the adventurer in the audience, a sense of freedom, that anything can happen at any time and all of it will be glorious, good fun.
Johnny Depp is the personification of freedom in this role. He sets loose and doesn't slow down one bit. He is hilarious and sexy, and he is clearly living out some sort of childhood dream, with the using of ropes as transportation and the manning of the giant wheel of a magnificent vessel. He so glories in the whole of it that we are enraptured to do the same. He wears the beads and bluster well, but he also gives Captain Jack the sort of quirks we have come to expect, from the drunken delirium to the still slightly off-kilter near-sobriety. The gold teeth add gleam to his already devilishly playful grin.
Depp and Orlando Bloom make a remarkable and dynamic duo. Bloom plays the romantic hero, willing to do what needs to be done to save his fair-haired maiden. He does the role justice to that end, but he also gets to come out and play a bit, doing as well with a sword as he does with a bow and arrow. He learns that pirates have a code, and the honor they give to it (at times) is something in itself to admire. Keira Knightly is more beautiful than any one person deserves to be, and the fact that she is also talented seems slightly unfair. She takes joy in playing with the boys, and she also gets to show how a woman's ingenuity is sometimes the best way to save the day. Geoffrey Rush, as head skeleton with a monkey, is wonderful as always. He almost noticeably licks his lips as he devours this juicy part. These people are a delight to watch, because they are clearly having so much fun.
Director Gore Verbinski ties all of the elements of the adventure together seamlessly. The action is well choreographed and done with a real sense of humor and grace. The music generates the appropriate swell in the pit of the stomach at appropriate times. The special effects are amazing, particularly with respect to the skeletal pirates, who manage to still be recognizable as their individual characters. There also are enormous, gorgeously done ships with giant billowing sails and subtle, remarkable details. Though slick summer fare, this movie rises above the expectations and leaves the audience with something to really savor. It's well worth seeing, at least once, but I certainly intend to return for another look.
(*One special note in honor of my dear friend Matt. These pirates do not do musical numbers. For that, you will need to find "The Pirate Movie" starring Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins.)I would gladly follow Captain Jack and Will Turner on any future adventures. The certainty of this movie's success also means there will likely be pirates-a-plenty come Halloween. For some reason, this fills me with eager anticipation and great joy. Ahoy.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7895&reviewer=317
originally posted: 07/15/03 10:37:33