This is my entry for Hamlette's Piratical Blogathon. This oft-maligned movie needs a little love. I saw this movie in the theater when it came out and quite enjoyed it. Is it a great movie? No. Is it good? That probably depends on what you want out of a pirate movie. Treasure, sea battles, betrayal and mutiny, a little romance, walking the plank, the British navy, tropical islands, a monkey, swordfighting... Those are things I look for, and this movie has them all. Is it entertaining? For me, absolutely.
This is a straight-forward treasure hunt movie. A pirate hid a vast fortune on an island (Cutthroat Island) and gave each of his three sons one part of the map that identified where the treasure was. Only with all three pieces can you find the treasure. The sons, Douglas (Dawg), Harry, and Mortecai, of course, don't remotely get along. We start the movie with Morgan, Harry's daughter. When her father is killed, she gets his portion of the map, and the race is on to get the other map pieces and beat Dawg to the treasure. Morgan has to prove herself as captain of her father's ship and men who are skeptical she can fill her father's shoes as their leader. She also picks up a thief along the way who speaks Latin, William Shaw, when she needs her portion of the map translated.
The ships, locations, costumes, and sea battles are fantastic. Actually, everything about this movie looks unbelievably fantastic. I felt like I was back in time. I wanted to own all of Geena Davis's costumes. Ms. Davis was criticised as being miscast... and yet she really isn't. You need a woman who's believable
as leader of a bunch of pirates, and she fulfills that. She's a tall, brawny lady -- taller than quite a few of the male members of her crew, and you need someone physically strong like that to handle the many fist fights, sword fights, climbing up ropes, swimming, etc.
What I think can make her seem miscast is not Geena Davis... but the dialogue in the movie. The dialogue is one of the weakest points. Not always, there's a lot of good dialogue mixed in there too, but they seem to have given the cheesy lines mostly to Morgan. This does her character a grave injustice. When the dialogue is good, she rocks this role. When it's cheesy, it can pull you out of the movie. But despite those moments, I still really enjoy her, and it is always fun to see a woman get a role like this.
There's a bit of gender reversal between her and Shaw's character. He's the one who ends up getting rescued by Morgan more than once, not vice versa. It's very refreshing. And Shaw (Matthew Modine) is a cool character, even if he does keep getting into trouble. Thief, liar, speaks Latin, wheeler dealer, but ultimately loyal to Morgan. They're great fun together, each trying to outplay each other before they finally admit they're on the same side. I had a bit of a crush on him. Maybe it was just the nice arms!
Frank Langella is perfect as Morgan's tough, villainous uncle, Dawg.
I really like how he admires Morgan and her courage and cunning more than he did his own brothers. When he offers her a partnership, he means it because he recognizes that she's a good captain and pirate. One of my favorite moments is when he sees her ship creeping up on his and realizes something is not right. He very quietly goes to general quarters and takes action. Morgan's doing the same on her ship, and it's just fun to watch them cat-and-mouse at sea before the ships erupt in full scale battle.
When I first saw this in the theater, I knew from the opening scene I was going to enjoy the movie. Why? The music. Music makes or breaks a movie for me, and this film has one of the best action adventures scores ever. John Debney's score is outstanding. Let me say that again. John Debney's score is OUTSTANDING. That opening scene that sucked me in so much, with Morgan Adams galloping her horse across a partially submerged sand spit while John Debney's awesome theme soars. That is just plain satisfying. Cutthroat Island is one of my most-listened to scores of all times. It never gets old, and even better, the complete score was released a few years back.