jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
There is a reason why out of Verbinski’s Pirates trilogy (and don’t you even dare mention the other films) why I didn’t watch Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl as often as I did the other two Verbinski films growing up and it’s because Verbinski manages to create a more bombastic and arresting story out of the subsequent films – some hate them, you’ll have to see what I think of them – and this one, although incredible, is completely grounded in reality. Verbinski is on the record stating he was going for “historical fantasy” while the other two films feel more rooted in pirate/ ocean mythology and for me, Verbinski just improves upon an already wonderful premise.
In Verbinski’s direction with this one, there lies a certain confidence that is further established in the subsequent films, but there’s also a certain sense of understanding: it’s rare for a Blockbuster to make me feel connected to its story and it’s in part due to the filmmaker’s seemingly disinterest in the characters and I think with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Verbinski establishes a true interest in his key three characters (Jack, Will, and Elizabeth), but he has passion for all of his misfit characters – it cannot be helped to see this and then think of how much each character evolves as the series progresses but in this one, I think Verbinski’s voice is clearly defined and if you were to view this as a stand-alone film (and if you’re one of those people, all I can ask is why?), you’ve gotten quite the development of each character: Will and Elizabeth find their purpose and voice, and Jack finds absolutely nothing – perfect for his character.
Verbinski's a very visual filmmaker and this is no exception. Water plays heavily into his works and thematically, there’s a sense of romanticism whenever the camera captures the ocean: the waves crashing on the boat, the sun dancing on the horizon of the water, people jumping in and out of the water – in his other films, water has been used to establish loneliness and fear and here, it’s used as a comfort tool: the ocean’s familiarity calls out to everyone and by the end of the film, you’re finding yourself wishing you were sailing around too. Not to mention the action scenes, particularly the ones bathed in darkness: the final sword fight is bathed in moonlight and shadow, the curse revealing dancing skeletons holding swords who’re unable to die. I firmly believe that out of the 2000s, no one filmed a Blockbuster with as much passion as Verbinski – maybe with an exception to Lucas and the Wachowski sisters – because each image reveals so much about the filmmaker and each frame feels perfectly planned out; Verbinski’s been hitting it out of the park ever since this and without this key film in his career, we’d lose the backbone of what makes him one of the great misunderstood filmmakers out there.
Everyone is perfectly cast – that goes without mention – and if you were to say that this was the defining pirate film, soaked in all of its grounded seriousness and fascination with bending the historical textbooks and cheeky obscurity, I'd probably be okay with hearing that.