Follow TV Tropes


Film / Pirates

Go To

Pirates is a 1986 Franco-Tunisian adventure film directed and written by Roman Polański. It stars Walter Matthau, Cris Campion, Damien Thomas, Olu Jacobs and Charlotte Lewis. It was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.

In 1659, the pirate Captain Thomas Bartholomew Red is stranded aboard a raft at sea with Jean-Baptiste, his French first mate (nicknamed "Frog"). After Red, cracking under the starvation, tries to kill and eat Frog, the duo crosses the path of a Spanish galleon, climbs onboard and are forced into slavery before instigating a mutiny with the other prisoners and taking control of the vessel. Frog falls in love with María-Dolores de la Jenya de la Calde, the niece of the governor of a Spanish colony. Red covets the golden throne that the Spanish have taken from an Aztec king. The two undertake an Indy Ploy while fighting the Spaniards to get what they want: one of them succeeds. Sort of.

The film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.

Pirates provides examples of:

  • All-Loving Heroine: Dolores. Her Establishing Character Moment has her stepping up in defence of Red and Frog when don Alfonso humiliates them, and despite everything she's been put through by the pirates (including kidnapping and attempted rape), she never seems to hold any grudge towards them and is invariably gentle and kind (if a bit haughty). When Captain Red is imprisoned along with Frog and thrown into the dungeon, she visits them and provides them with some rum — a gesture Red is genuinely moved by.
  • Agony of the Feet:
    • Red steps on Don Alfonso de la Torré's foot after climbing onboard the Neptune.
    • Red tortures the governor by abusing his gout-afflicted foot.
  • Anti-Hero: Captain Red is brutal, greedy, drunken and conniving.
  • Artificial Limbs: Red's peg leg.
  • Artistic License – History: Captain Red and Diddler are singing "We'll Go No More A-Roving" on the pirate island... about 100 years before the song was written.
  • Bad Boss:
    • Played straight with don Alfonso, who is absolutely ruthless and cruel towards his crew, and even seems to take sadistic pleasure in tormenting them and exerting his power over them just because he can.
    • Zig-zagged with Captain Red. Normally, he is fairly respectful and appreciative towards Frog (and later, Boomako), but that doesn't stop him from occasionally lashing out at him and venting his frustration on him when things don't go his way. He also seems to share a genuine camaraderie with his crew, knows them all by name and enjoys having fun and laugh with them... but after the climactic battle, he still leaves them all (sans Frog) to their fate — which, in their case, would be certain death from drowning.
  • Beard of Evil: Don Alfonso bears a neat, trimmed goatee and thin mustache to match.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Well, either this or Grey-and-Gray Morality. Captain Red and his comrades are all ruthless pirates (maybe except Frog) who rob and kill throughout the movie. However, their adversaries are equally ruthless Spaniards, who got their wealth by invading and slaughtering native nations of America (which is even lampshaded by captain Linares at one point).
  • Book Ends: An Ironic Echo version. Our two heroes start the movie aboard a raft at sea with a treasure chest. By the end of the movie, they're aboard a small boat at sea, this time with a golden Aztec throne.
  • Brawn Hilda: Dolores' unnamed guardian. She is masculine, tall, bulky and so physically strong that four grown men can barely restrain her. And even after she is finally pinned down, she still nearly manages to suffocate one of the rapists.
  • Brick Joke: At the very beginning of the movie, when starving Red tries to eat Frog, the latter tries to dissuade him from the idea by pointing out that cannibalism is a mortal sin which will earn him eternal damnation. Red brushes it off by asking "What about confession? What do you think confession's for?". Hilariously enough, when Red is given the opportunity to confess his sins later, he actually uses it to admit that he tried to eat Frog.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Neptune's priest offers to give Captain Red confession before his would-be-execution, Red uses the opportunity to receive absolution from his earlier sin, when he tried to eat Frog out of starvation. Not knowing that it is Jean-Baptiste's nickname, priest replies that since God created animals for us to eat them, then it's okay to eat frogs as well.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Frog is in love with Dolores and over time, she starts to reciprocate his feelings. In the heat of climactic battle, they find each other, and Frog duels with don Alfonso over her. However, in the end, he abandons the fight in order to aid Captain Red. In penultimate scene, both lovers can only watch each other yearningly as their boats go in opposite directions.
  • The Dragon: An unnamed, non-commissioned officer aboard the Neptune, who is frequently seen mistreating crew members and lashing them at slightest provocation, either on don Alfonso's orders or on his own accord. He specifically earns the ire of Captain Red, who kills him in a duel during the mutiny.
  • Epic Fail: In Maracaibo, Captain Red and Frog successfully seize the Golden Throne and are in process of carrying it out of the bay on boat. However, their path is obstructed by a chain blocking the entrance to the harbor, which is hung so low that the Throne, standing upright, gets in the way. Rather than just laying the Throne down, they try to flip it over the chain. This attempt results in getting the Throne just slung there and the boat floating away, leaving them clinging helplessly to the chain as well. So they spend the entire night hanging out there and are captured by Spaniards in the morning.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The movie is about, well, pirates.
  • Faked Food Contaminant: Having been saved from maritime distress by a Spanish galleon and fearful of being identified as the notorious pirate captain that he is, Bartholomew Red attempts to incite a mutiny among the common sailors after one of them finds a dead rat in the soup pot from which they are being fed, claiming the rat as proof that they are being intolerably mistreated. However, the fact that Red killed a rat in the preceding scene strongly suggests that he himself is responsible for the rat being there in the first place. The plan does not work as intended, leading to a invokedgross scene in which the Spanish captain forces Red to eat the cooked rat himself.
  • Fake Shemp: To achieve Captain Red's peg leg in wide shots, the film uses a stand-in with an actual missing leg. This is particularly noticeable in the opening scenes on the raft, where the stand-in's beard is jet black in contrast to Matthau's salt-and-pepper affair.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Fittingly for an aristocrat, don Alfonso is fairly polite, composed and well-mannered most of the time. Beneath that facade, however, he is a ruthless and sadistic man. This is particularly evident after Captain Red's first attempt at instigating a mutiny by planting a dead rat in soup. Don Alfonso gathers the entire crew on deck and cordially invites them to speak up their minds, pretending to be concerned with their problems. He does it while holding them all at a gunpoint and in the end, he just selects a few individuals to be executed and orders the others to get back to work, threatening that he will have them all shot if they don't. And later, when he forces Red and Frog to eat said rat out of spite, he maintains a faux well-mannered demeanor all the way, politely inviting them to the officer's table, wishing them bon appetit and offering them seasoning. You can't get more insincere than that.
  • Gold Fever: In Captain Red's case, it's almost cartoonish.
  • Groin Attack: Two of Red's fellow mutineers perform this. The first one by grabbing a cannon ball and throwing it at one of the officers, and the other one by biting his adversary in crotch during struggle.
  • Guards Must Be Crazy:
    • Neither the guards, nor the officers, nor any other crew members take any notice that an intruder has climbed aboard Neptune. Nobody reacts either when Frog just runs freely on the deck and grabs a loose rope to pick up Captain Red.
    • There's also the guard posted near the armory, who gets distracted by arguably the oldest trick in the book. Red just points somewhere behind him and says "there...". The guard falls for it. And dies a few seconds later.
    • And the guard in Maracaibo governor's palace, who completely fails to notice that a guy dressed as a priest is not actually a priest — although Red's beard and peg leg should be a dead giveaway — and gladly agrees to lead him and his comrades straight to the governor's room without alerting his commander. Even when the guard turns around just as Red is about to hit him in the head with stock of his pistol (twice), it doesn't ring any bells.
  • Hollywood Density: The solid gold throne doesn't appear to weigh more than a similarly sized chair made of dense wood.
  • It's All About Me: Or rather, all about gold. Red kills dozens of Spaniards, gets jailed, loses half his pirates and abandons the other half to die, and goes through all kinds of hell just to get that Aztec Throne. In the end, he gets it, and its all he has left... but he's OK with that.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: More like Jack Bauer Blackmail Technique, but the method is still the same. After finding out that Maracaibo's governor cares little about her niece and will not exchange her for the Golden Throne, Captain Red decides to torture him instead. Luckily for him, the governor happens to be suffering from gout, which Red readily exploits. The governor cracks very quickly.
  • Jerkass: Don Alfonso de la Torré is a nasty piece of work. Not only is he cruel to his crew, condescending to Maria, contemptuous of anyone not Spanish (and some who are), it's implied it was he who poisoned the Neptune's captain Linares to get command.
  • Karma Houdini: Don Alfonso. He's only in prison for a few hours, and after that he gets promoted to captain and gets the girl (though she cares little for him).
  • Kick the Dog: Even though he plans to execute them anyway, Don Alfonso makes Red and Frog eat a dead rat at the officer's table purely out of spite.
  • Large Ham: Captain Red takes the cake.
  • Love at First Sight: Frog falls in love with Dolores the moment he sees her. Admittedly, it's not that strange, given the fact that she is played by Charlotte Lewis.
  • MacGuffin: The Golden Throne of Aztec King Capatec Anahuac.
  • Meaningful Name: Captain Red wears garments of a certain primary color.
  • Murderous Thighs: Used to humorous effect by Dolores' guardian on one of the would-be-rapists.
  • The Mutiny: Red masterminds a successful mutiny onboard the Neptune.
  • Nice Guy: Frog is a decent guy. For, you know, a professional pirate.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A mild example. At the beginning of the movie, Frog saves Captain Red and pulls him aboard the Neptune. Shortly afterwards, Red punches him in the face out of frustration that he had to ditch his treasure chest in order to survive.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: After learning from Boomako that Captain Red and Frog were captured and imprisoned, the pirates raid the dungeon the following night and spring them out. Red repays them later by leaving them to die after climactic battle.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: At the beginning, the two leads are drifting on a raft with no land or food in sight and Frog tries his best to fish. After a while, Captain Red snaps and attempts to kill Frog to eat him, until both spot the Spanish galleon on the horizon.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Played for Laughs. When Captain Red offers Dolores to the Dutch as a hostage, he says that her wealthy uncle — the governor of Maracaibo — will surely pay three thousand for her release. Dolores is deeply offended... and promptly claims that she's worth ten times more than that. Subverted in that the Dutch is not interested in taking hostages anyway.
  • Obviously Evil: Don Alfonso sports neatly trimmed goatee and thin mustache. But the most blatant thing is that the upper part of his wig is twirled in a way that makes it resemble devil's horns. Clearly, all those details indicate that he is an affable and kind-hearted man.
  • Off Screen Moment Of Awesome: The wreck and battle on Red's ship, the Black Princess. Overrun by Spanish Pirate Hunters, Red and Frog somehow survived this onslaught and escaped, killing plenty of the attackers in the process. We only hear a few details of this event from other characters: The Spaniards, the pirates, and even Red himself.
  • One-Man Army: Frog has shades of this. He can be seen engaging an entire group of enemies at once on at least two occasions note  and coming out on the top.
  • Only in It for the Money: Inverted with Frog, who claims that he fights alongside Captain Red not for gold, but because of his hatred of Spaniards.
  • Only Sane Man: Frog and Dolores play this role in various moments. When don Alfonso forces Red and Frog to eat a dead rat for his own (and other officers') sick amusement, Dolores is the only one who does not find it one bit humorous and demands to put an end to this. After the Neptune is overtaken by the mutineers and some of them invade the passenger quarters and try to rape Dolores and her guardian, Frog is the one who intervenes and stops them. He is also quick to realize that the governor of Maracaibo wouldn't give two pennies to save his niece and suggests that Red tortures him instead in order to get what he wants.
  • The Queen's Latin: All of the Spaniards except Dolores have pure British accents. On the rare occasion when a Spaniard says an actual Spanish word, however, they tend to put a slight Spanish accent on it.
  • Pirate: Obviously. The film focuses on a group of pirates who take over a Spanish galleon after being enslaved by the ship's captain.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: After successfully rebelling and overtaking the Neptune, a few mutineers raid the quarters of Dolores and her guardian, attempting to rape them. Fortunately, this is quickly put to an end by timely intervention of the Frog.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Boomako is attacked by a python at one point.
  • Shown Their Work: An impressive full-scale 17th century Spanish galleon was built for the film, which was one of the reasons the film went overbudget. It still exists and can be visited in the port of Genoa.
  • Skewed Priorities: This trope is in full effect whenever it comes to Red and the Golden Throne. Even when he's sitting in a dungeon and Dolores informs him that he is going to be executed tomorrow, he doesn't care and keeps asking her for whereabouts of the Throne.
  • The Strategist: Captain Red. He is the one who devises all the plans put into motion by the pirates, including instigating a mutiny on the Neptune, sneaking into Maracaibo in order to blackmail its governor and steal the Golden Throne or launching a surprise night attack at the galleon in the climax of the movie.
  • Swashbuckler: 17th century, pirates, feathered hats, sword fights, you name it.
  • Talk Like a Pirate: Red talks like this, of course.
  • Third-Person Person: Boomako has a penchant to talk about himself that way.
  • Translation Convention: The Spanish speak almost nothing but English except for a few terms of address. The only major exception is a few brief lyrics spoken by Dolores.
  • Undying Loyalty: Both Frog and Boomako are deeply loyal to Red.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Captain Red. At the beginning of the movie, he punches Frog in the face (even though he just saved his life) out of frustration that his treasure chest was dropped into the sea. But his greatest offence is that after the climactic battle, he leaves his surviving crewmates to die — even though those men served him loyally the whole time and some of them even sacrificed themselves earlier to break him and Frog out of prison.
  • Use Your Head: One of Red's fellow mutineers breaks the door of Dolores' quarters by bashing through it with his head. He seems to be a little dizzy afterwards.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: As ruthless and murderous the pirates in this movie are, they never do any actual harm to Dolores and her guardian (safe for a single rape attempt, which was quickly thwarted before it went too far) when they are in their custody. This trope is briefly subverted, though, when Captain Red tries to use Dolores as a hostage to force her uncle to exchange her for Golden Throne — and orders Frog to rape her in order to make a point. Naturally, Frog cannot bring himself to do it.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: The movie is set in 17th century, most of action takes place aboard a galleon of that era, and the living conditions of its crew are as you should expect. They wear paltry, worn-out clothing, hygiene is abysmal and corporal punishments like lashing are handed out frequently.