Cutthroat Island (1995)

Cutthroat Island (1995)

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Despite her peril, she couldn't help think that her opponent's sword would be great for slicing bread.
Despite her peril, she couldn’t help think that her opponent’s sword would be great for slicing bread.

Twitter Plot Summary: A traditional pirate tale as Geena Davis captains her crew of pirates towards the treasure on Cutthroat Island.

Five Point Summary:

1. A female captain?!
2. Some derring do.
3. More derring do.
4. Yet more derring do.
5. Arr, treasure!

It’s a brave person who makes a pirate film in the modern cinematic era. With the exception of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which has a Disney ride and Johnny Depp to fall back on, and looking through the list of all pirate-based films ever released, most of them rely on the tried and tested formula of adapting Treasure Island – you usually can’t fail if you’re adapting what is perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson’s greatest work. Let’s ignore that one with Eddie Izzard, shall we?

The story takes place during the golden period of piracy in the 17th century, and newly appointed Captain Morgan (Geena Davis – a woman, no less) is on the search for three parts of a map that will lead her to the treasure found on Cutthroat Island. The problem being that each section of the map is in the possession of her father, her uncle… and her evil uncle (Langella). So, whilst trying to get the map she also has to prove to her slightly incredulous crew that she has the chops to complete her quest before they mutiny and do their own thing.

The performances are strong throughout, and the set pieces, when they happen, are suitably spectacular. So why doesn’t it quite work? That’s hard to define, but it’s certainly not the central performance of Geena Davis. Jokes aside about her bad teeth/gum ratio, she’s solid as Morgan, a woman who fits in perfectly in what is traditionally a man’s world. Attempts at flipping the usual “damsel in distress” formula on its head by giving her a feisty blonde man to butt heads with (so to speak) are moderately amusing but ultimately it’s the same old trope we’ve seen before albeit with the gender roles flipped – if her character had been played by a man it would almost be the same film, albeit a male pirate captain that slept around with other men – a gap in the market, perhaps? Anyway I digress – if anything the story we’re given is a little safe and boring. Same again for the villain – Frank Langella is usually a reliable presence, but here it feels like he’s phoning his menace in. That and he doesn’t look particularly piratey, as if he showed up at the last minute for his costume fitting and refused to have a beard because they itch. Or something along those lines.

He wasn't a fan of the music these youngsters were into nowadays.
He wasn’t a fan of the music these youngsters were into nowadays.

As you may expect, every pirate-based cliche is rolled out for your viewing pleasure. A tavern fight? Check. Sword fights? Check. Cannon attacks and repelling boarders? Check. A sword fight to the death, inexplicably at the top of the ship’s sails? Check. A cheeky monkey? Check. Drinking, treasure and more drinking? Check, check, check. This is fine to an extent, but you end up yearning for something that plays a little more “out there” just to give it a selling point. It’s certainly not a bad film, it’s just almost completely unspectacular and does nothing new with the format. It wouldn’t look out of place alongside the films released during the genre’s peak in the 1950s-1960s, and that’s perhaps the most damning statement that can be made.

Score: 3/5

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