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Pirates

Director: Roman Polanski

U.S.A.-France| 1986. Colour. Panavision anamorphic. Dolby stereo. 112 mins.


Long in gestation as an homage to the Errol Flynn swashbucklers Polanski loved in his youth, Pirates turned into a multi-million dollar disaster, now best remembered for its galleon, which became a Cannes tourist attraction. Polanski described the filming as a nightmare where ‘every shot was like tearing a fish out of a shark’s mouth.’ The screenplay can best be described as picaresque, which is another way of saying it lacks all continuity and cohesion. And yet there is much to salvage from the wreckage. In the leading role, Walter Matthau swaggers entertainingly as a crimson pirate (he is actually called Captain Red) who, after being taken aboard a Spanish vessel, causes mayhem, among other things inciting mutiny and a search for gold. There is a delightful turn by Richard Pearson as a sleepy cleric, an appropriately rumbustious score by Philippe Sarde, and some Oscar nominated costumes from a Polanski regular, Anthony Powell. If not his finest hour, a below-par Polanski is still better than some filmmakers at full stretch: I would far rather see this again than Pirates of the Caribbean.

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