Published on May 28th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck0
Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End + Breach
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END – general release
Disney’s pirate pantomime has sailed happily off the edge of the world, careening through space in the barely comprehensible adventures of many men, who do many things (which all seem quite interesting, although they are uniformly difficult to follow).
Welcome to the Caribbean, where Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is dead, Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) is alive and Elizabeth and Will (Keira Knightly, Orlando Bloom) are having trust issues. With ol’ Tentacle Face (Bill Nighy) at their command, The East India Trading Company rules the seven seas, intent on ridding the world of pirates, forever. The pirate lords are stirring, with plans to rally at Shipwreck Cove and meet their enemy with a united front, but one of the nine buccaneer chiefs is missing and with him is one of the nine Pieces of Eight required to unleash unholy terror on the East India Armada. Captain Jack was banished to Davey Jones’ locker before passing on his secret talisman to a successor, so he must be fetched from his sandy afterlife if the blood-thirsty, business-minded East India fleet is to be stopped.
Throughout the next two hours, following on from the first hour in which Jack is rescued, many other swashbuckling adventures take place. The general gist of the thing is that everyone is in it for themselves and beneath the rolling behemoth of swordplay, stiff jokes and orchestral mania, there seems to be a reasonably clever story going on. (Seems to be, however one cannot be sure. I don’t know that director Gore Verbinski is sure, being primarily concerned with the wedding of Beckett-esque lunacy, Brechtian dissonance and high concept spectacle. I don’t know that Disney care [having fulfilled their duties in ensuring that anyone having sex in their movie will be married first, goddammit], and certainly the cast are too busy with their horde of yo-ho-hos, arghs and crimenies to have any idea what’s actually happening. But we shall give them all the benefit of the doubt.) The rain, the sea, the cannon-fire and silliness, the brave wenches and serious boys, the seasoned thespians and the comic relief, the bizarre twists of visual fantasy and the clockwork choreography all tumble, explode and wiggle across a tale of such epic and admirable grandeur that it must be huzzah-ed even as we ponder its many puzzling inconsistencies and impossible logic.
It is fiercely camp, often hopelessly cluttered and would benefit from a bit of polish in the pre-production stage, but at three hours, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s Edge has the dubious honour of being terrifically entertaining despite itself. Wow them with detail and the box office will overflow with pirate gold. Yar.
BREACH – general release
Breach tells the story of what has been described as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in US history”. (No, it’s nothing to do with electing George Bush.)
Ryan Phillippe plays real-life FBI agent Eric O’Neill. An ambitious up-and-comer, O’Neill is abruptly pulled off a case and made aide to Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a gifted, formidable man who’s a 25-year agent at the FBI and its foremost expert on Russia. O’Neill’s task is to spy on Hanssen, who, he’s told, is a sexual deviant and a potential source of embarrassment to the Bureau. This jars with O’Neill’s initial impressions of Hanssen, a devout Catholic and a devoted husband and grandfather. Breach charts O’Neill’s conversion from a reluctant spy to a determined pursuer of a man guilty of much more than sexual deviancy.
The film’s most compelling element – the fact that it’s based on real people and events – seems more straight-jacket than stimulus for director Billy Ray and his writers. Where a fictional film would invent characters and plot twists to illuminate its subject, Breach seems to dutifully trudge through the historical record. This could have been to the film’s advantage if only it showed the necessary relish for the nuts and bolts of the case, the minutiae of who, where, how, and why. Depending on taste, then, Breach is too anchored in reality to be a rip-roaring spy tale, or too little anchored in reality to be a procedural insight into the murky world of counter-espionage.
The film has an equally fumbly grasp on characterisation. Despite their real-life provenance, the protagonists are washed-out repetitions of countless other characters from countless other films. Script and direction don’t boast the subtlety or observational power to make the characters anything but paint-by-number stand-ins for reality. Sure, director Ray mechanically wheels out a fraught father-son relationship and a wife who bridles at the secrets her husband must keep from her, but it’s all so artless and broadly sketched it fails to add characterly depth.
This is particularly galling because Chris Cooper – with his prim mouth, elongated vowels, and a fleshy face that hints at dissipation – is perfectly suited to playing Hanssen. Unfortunately, the script gives him nothing to work with: there’s nothing that distinguishes Hanssen from the battalions of brilliant but bad men that precede him in cinema history. As for Ryan Phillippe, well, he emotes strenuously, but if he were any more of a lightweight he’d levitate out of frame. Caroline Dhavernas is unobjectionable as O’Neill’s wife, while Laura Linney is Agent Burroughs, O’Neill’s handler in the Hanssen investigation. Linney ably plays Laura Linney playing an FBI agent. If you dig Linney-ness, you’ll appreciate her typically mannered performance.
It’s difficult to resist comparing Breach to The Good Shepherd, Robert De Niro’s beautifully crafted film about the machinations of the American intelligence community. Whatever its other flaws, The Good Shepherd, also based loosely on real events, has a strong artistic vision and a firm grasp on what it wants to say about its characters. Sadly, this comparison is an unflattering one for Breach. The Good Shepherd takes real life and fashions from it a powerful drama. Breach takes real life and slumps with it into cabbage-like inertness.