Most people only think about Gore Verbinski’s attachment to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but he’s got a lot of other projects that many forget or just…don’t know that he was a part of. His filmography sprawls through comedies, horror films, even an extremely dark family film. Strangely enough, Verbinski is a director whose entire career I’ve followed in theatres. Ever since his early releases, I’ve enjoyed him as a weird and wonderful wacko that doesn’t always score, but he’s always trying something.
The Lone Ranger : With his pirate films proving massively successful at the box office, Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were already trying to replicate them in other settings with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and weren’t doing very well. They took another stab at it with this, trying to put the tone in the Old West. It…didn’t work. Depp’s version of Tonto is over-the-top and ridiculous, but not in the way that some of his other characters worked. Rather, his performance just comes off as boring and lifeless. It’s a shame that Armie Hammer didn’t get a better film to star in because he’s doing a fine job. This feels like the work of a hired gun, something without real care or vision behind it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End : This one hurt. I put so much stock in the fun of the first two films that my hype for this was through the roof. It starts strong and contains a lot of wonderful concepts, but all of it is thrown at us with wanton abandon in a bloated and yet somehow too short finale to this trilogy (or what should have remained the finale). And it’s a pity that this exists in the era where trilogies reigned instead of dedication to storytelling because this could have been excellent if divided into two movies. It’s anything but lackluster, and yet I just watched in bafflement as everything onscreen sprinted to the finish line. It’s nearly 3 hours long! How did it feel like there wasn’t enough space to do everything necessary?
A Cure for Wellness : This isn’t a terrible one. Psychological thrillers are rather wonderful outlets for people like Gore Verbinski, allowing visual experimentation and darker elements to be vented. This, like many other failures, gets too lost in its concepts to hold onto anything concrete. Dane DeHaan is a strange case, a young actor that has immense talent and a strange look to him but the guy just can’t catch a break. This is another instance of a film that doesn’t work properly, again bloated and full of excess. But this time it’s fun excess, and DeHaan is delivering yet another wonderful performance that deserves a better film. The boy needs a vehicle, but Verbinski’s asylum film just isn’t it.
The Weather Man : Perfectly serviceable but nothing special, The Weather Man is a bafflingly dull film. Meant to serve as a dramatic comedy, it instead sits in Verbinski’s catalog as a bland and boring entry. There’s nothing particularly special in its imagery, its script, or even in its performances. Whatever I’ve said about the previous entries on this list, they’ve got a visual flair to them that is undeniably fun despite their problematic instances. I like my Verbinski bananas or brilliant, but boring is the worst sin most filmmakers can commit and he’s fallen into that. It’s weird to say that Nicholas Cage gave a bland performance but here we are. I’m so used to him being completely insane that it’s hard to fathom something this watered down. Despite there being worse Gore Verbinski films, I’d call this one that you could skip.
The Mexican : There’s a lot at play in The Mexican, a romantic dramedy that toes the line of being a thriller as well. There’s a pattern in Verbinski’s films, and it’s that he often tries to pull off more than he’s capable of delivering on. What makes this film work, however, are the performances he pulls from Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. They’re both clearly in vastly different movies and have almost no chemistry, but they’re both putting in as much effort as they can to keep this train rolling. Oh, and let’s talk about the fact that J.K. Simmons is in this movie! He’s not as insane in this as he gets in other films, but he’s the most fun performance in the film and it was a delight to see him going buck-wild on some of these lines.
Rango : Let’s start having some fun! I know Johnny Depp is a scary, drunk, vampire man now. I’m aware. But there was a time when the world at large didn’t know that and he was beloved by all. Rango was one of those fun movies, a hilarious romp with gorgeous animation. Watching this fish-out-of-water tale of a chameleon that goes West is charming, and with Depp’s vocal performance carrying the film it winds up working. Good ol’ Gore hadn’t failed at this point, but his second and third pirate films (alongside The Weather Man) hadn’t made the critical impact that his other work had. Here he scored one of the only non-Disney/Pixar wins for Best Animated Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s impressive, and it’s delightful.
MouseHunt : Yeah, here we go! I still remember seeing this one in theatres, and it was such an odd little movie. Christopher Walken is an exterminator! And he’s hilarious! The whole film feels Abbott and Costello inspired, with all sorts of odd little slapstick gags that are just entertaining to watch. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are goofy oddballs that play to their strengths, hamming it up and allowing their comedic chops to shine. This is a strangely disturbing movie, a bit gross and uncomfortable, but I’ve loved it ever since the first time little 9-year-old me sat in that darkened theater to watch it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl : Landing this kind of risky hit makes a career, and this is where Verbinski became a known name. The significance of this film is that Johnny Depp also became a name outside of Tim Burton fans and arty kids. This is also the best Jack Sparrow he’ll ever give, from here on outgrowing visibly more bored with the character. With this Disney launched the career of Keira Knightley onto the main stage and carried Orlando Bloom from side character to teen heartthrob. For these two young actors, it would never get better than this, and it’s one of the biggest surprises that Disney has ever delivered. Verbinski had something special happening here, and it’s still his most popular film.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest : That’s right, I like this one better than the first one! I think between the cannibals, the weird setpieces, and Johnny Depp stepping slightly down from his previous performance that this is just a weird and special little film. Couple that with Bill Nighy’s performance, which brought to life one of the greatest Disney villains ever produced, and you’ve got something magical baby. Verbinski was clearly interested in playing with motion capture and what he captured was awesome. The effects on the crew of The Flying Dutchman are gorgeous and I’ve been delighted by this performance from the first time I watched it. Also what about that weird-ass wheel fight? That’s so cool, and the way Verbinski shot it is a lot of fun. Tons of tricky camera work, what had to be dozens of takes at least, and lots of goofy dialogue that was charming and hilarious. I love this movie.
The Ring : This is just an absurdly wonderful film. Sure, some of it doesn’t make sense but 14-year-old me loved the hell out of it. This was the horror movie that teens would pass around to see if they could handle how scary it is, and despite its PG-13 rating it managed to become an iconic film for a lot of us. A semi-remake of the Japanese film Ringu (I say “semi-remake” because there’s a lot that’s different), it’s an odd choice for Verbinski after MouseHunt and The Mexican but the film scored with audiences. This launched an era of American remakes of J-Horror films, most of which didn’t work, but despite the legacy it sired this remains a really masterfully made terror. This is where Verbinski is able to keep his horrific imagery without the bloated budgets that eventually affect his decision-making skills. I love this one, and it’s a regular rewatch for me.
Gore Verbinski is weird and actually has a decent amount of films to discuss. Not all of them are good, but they’re odd and fascinating. I genuinely enjoyed a lot of his films and have a couple that really stay close to my heart. What do you think of Verbinski?