Watching for Keira – Almost Nightly

A pirate walked up to me in the mall this holiday weekend as I was loitering outside of Anthropologie, waiting with only moderatre patience for The Artist. “Hey big man, I’ve got Pirates and Shrek 3 on DVD. Twenty bucks.” I shooed him away with a suave “belay me buck-o, and be about yer business.”

But I also found it strange to be offered a pirated Pirates of the Caribbean – for which I’d laid out considerable scratch at the local cineplex two nights previous. Then again, perhaps twenty bucks was a bargain. Why shouldn’t the Motion Picture Association endorse pirating a movie that glamorizes rapine plunder?

Pirates3 gets a sad thumbs down from this reviewer: it’s too long, too unemotional, and too driven by computer graphics and a thick and clumsy plot (if it can be called that at all) that had me trying to fathom the many competing pirate curses that seemed to spout up like stranded whales as excuses for some battle or swordfight.

A huge Hollywood mess, in other words – one that will rake in tens of millions of dollars (a success!) and satisfy audiences’ desire for a big, sweeping epic. Problem is, this thing screams “big sweeping epic!” without actually providing the sweep. Or for that matter, a single convincing character…save one.

And I’m not talking about Keira Knightley, though her presence – all angular profile and Oxbridge enunciation – is one of the few reasons to sit through the flick.

It’s not that her role is transcendant, or her performance electric. The former is unimportant, the latter merely spirited. But Knightley is trying – she’s working the scant material. Which is more than can be said for Johnny Depp, a fine actor collecting a massive paycheck, or Orlando Bloom, a tepid actor also collecting the aforementioned lucre.

Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow – and I use reprise in the loosest sense. His first portrayal was interesting, a fascinating study in his art. In the last two – filmed together in massive Hollywood bloat – are merely copies. And Bloom, almost as pretty as Knightley, is half her talent as an actor.

As Mel Odom remarked at Blogcritics:

One of the British Navy men said of Jack Sparrow, “Do you think he plans all this out, or just makes it up as he goes along?” or words to that effect. I couldn’t help but feel that way about the script. It was all well done, but some of it seemed to be plotting and twists of convenience.

The Moviegoer is even tougher:

…the swelling budgets of the two sequels, and especially the increasing reliance on CGI “spectacle,” have crushed pretty much all the joy and spontaneity out of this series. They don’t even stage a simple lighthearted swordfight in these movies anymore; it’s all about giant sea monsters and half-man, half-fish mutants now. Depp’s still around, but now he’s off in the margins of the film, amusing himself and nobody else.

No, the movie is Knightley’s. – such as it is. She fights the unfollowable plot, the insane overuse of CGI, and the lame dialogue admirably. It’s a mere bywater (well-paying) to what I suspect may well be a fine career. She broke through in Bend It Like Beckham, and owned Pride and Prejudice. She’s 22 years old and may well have a run not unlike Katherine Hepburn, who she resembles in body type if not in delivery and cool remove.

On to the finest performance: that of Keith Richards as Jack Sparrow’s father. It is brief and perfectly brought off, even featuring a little light lute playing by the Rolling Stone. Keith clearly enjoys the role and it’s well-written for him – evidence of some writing craft in a movie otherwise devoid of it. For his two minutes or so of total screen time, the review is simple: I laughed, I cried, I ate some popcorn.