Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom


Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

It's always a pleasure to watch Johhny Depp work; he's probably the bravest actor in films today, with a range that's wider by far than that of any other leading man. Consider what he's done: "Edward Scissorhands," as the boy with extra-sharp nails. "Don Juan DeMarco," as a man obsessed by his fantasy. "Donnie Brasco," where he played the FBI agent who goes undercover to expose a Mafia family. "Sleepy Hollow." "Blow," as the would-be cocaine maven. "Before Night Falls," in two roles - as the interrogator and as the prison drag queen. For each of them he throws away almost every bit of his own personality - the quality that most stars rely on - and creates his character from scratch. I don't know that he's capable of reaching the depths that Sean Penn does, for example, as we saw in "Dead Man Walking," but Depp's range is greater and there's a vivacity to his work that is always exciting.

And now he's the pirate Jack Sparrow, in a film that on paper looks like the dog of the summer but in the theatre is an absolute delight. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" takes its name, and for all I know its plot, from the Disneyland staple thrill ride, where pirates battle and ships sink before your eyes. But the movie, with a very witty script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, finds a way to make the story into something that could very well become a classic of the genre.

Depp in full pirate drag looks like he's carrying around about a hundred-weight of hair extensions, beard extensions, necklaces, bracelets and a hat that covers all. He swaggers, he dances, he floats through the film using a wonderfully arch voice, batting his lashes and tormenting his tormentors with the best lines in ages. You can't take your eyes off him, nor would you want to. The story is classic Hollywood pirate: Elizabeth (Keira Knightley, who was so good in "Bend It Like Beckham"), the daughter of the British governor of a Caribbean island, spots an unconscious young boy adrift on a raft. He is Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and he has a strange medallion around his neck. He grows up to be the colony blacksmith, but he seems to specialize in making swords. He and she love each other, but the local navy commander wants her as his wife.

Meanwhile Sparrow's own pirate crew has mutinied, led by his first mate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and abandoned him on a desert island, but the curse of the Black Pearl has turned them into the undead. They must find that medallion and return it to its place with the rest of their Aztec gold before they can regain their living form.

That's all you will want to know, because what make the film work so well is that everyone is perfect in their roles. Rush is the classic evil pirate, Knightley is the perfect governor's daughter, and Bloom is at least adequate as her love interest. But the screen jumps when Depp appears, and director Gore Verbinski, coming off two weak films ("The Ring" and "The Mexican"), lets everybody swash their buckles without getting in the way. As in any good pirate film, there are always disputes to settle. The request for a parley must be honored. Sparrow is reminded of the code - "The Code," as it is spoken. "Hang the code," he says. "Hang the rules. They're more like guidelines anyway."

Someone speaks of how Rush and his pirates take everything and leave no survivors. "No survivors?" asks Sparrow. "Then where do the stories come from, I wonder." And you will wonder at the ability of the pirate ship, with its sails like swiss cheese, to outrun the British navy. Doesn't matter; you will have a good time. But as with many other good things, this film is too long. The climax is extended beyond its proper length, and we would all be better off if the last half hour were about twenty-five minutes shorter. But in a year when most of Hollywood's product has been dreadful, "Pirates of the Caribbean" is a rare pleasure.