Master and Commander


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"Don't miss the boat! It's worth seeing if you have any interest in naval conflict. If you like seamen, you'll get your fill from this film."



Master and Commander:

The Far Side of the World
The Masked Reviewer

It's got a colon in the title, so it must be important.  It's also got one of the longest names of any film this year.  Therefore it must be good.  Mustn't it?

Academy Award (tm) winner Russell Crowe (no relation to Sheryl Crowe) stars in this epic tale of naval courage and gritty oceanic warfare.  Now that Crowe has won an Oscar(tm), he must always be referred to as Academy Award (tm) winner, Russell Crowe, rather than just plain old actor Russell Crowe.  If he is inadvertently referred to without mention of his Academy Award (tm), the Academy will come and get you.  And you don't want that.

Here's the short review: Gladiator at sea. 

Okay, here's a bit more: it's The Perfect Storm meets The Patriot, but not exactly.  How about Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Bounty Muppet Treasure Island meets Cutthroat Island?  Okay, maybe not.

Since Pirates of the Caribbean was such a big success, and because Master and Commander stars a major box office star, we can expect that we will soon be inundated with naval warfare films.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It'll be like the second renaissance of swashbuckling films. 

Master and Commander is a lot more serious than Pirates of the Caribbean, and Crowe's Captain Jack Aubrey is nowhere near as much fun as Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow.  Crowe does bring a gritty, brooding, macho hero element to the role, which is interesting to watch throughout the film.

The movie is directed by Peter Weir, who you may remember from such films as The Truman Show(1998), Dead Poets Society (1989), and Witness (1985).  Master and Commander tries to be epic, though perhaps a bit too epic.  In addition to the big battle scenes, we are treated to the interactions of the crew.  It becomes a bit overwhelming at times, though, to keep track of who is who.  The tremendous impact of sailor so-in-so having something happen to him seems to get lost when you can't keep the crew members straight.  Added to that is the fact that the big battle sequences are kind of hard to follow; you get a sense of the chaos of battle, but you're never sure who's winning and who's dying.

Since Russell Crowe plays in his own band (you can buy his album here), you'd expect the scenes where he plays the violin to look more like he's actually playing.  Granted, the violin and electric guitar aren't exactly the same, but still...he should at least be close.  It looks like he's trying to squash a cockroach on the violin strings.

There are many faces you'll recognize in the crew (including Billy Boyd from Lord of the Rings trilogy), but the best supporting performances come from Paul Bettany (who you may remember as Chaucer from A Knight's Tale and Russell Crowe's friend in A Beautiful Mind) and newcomer Max Pirkis (he's a kid and this is his first film).  Pirkis looks familiar, sort of like the kid who played Oliver in Oliver, but maybe it's the British accent that confused the Masked Reviewer.  He gives a solid performance in an unusually heavy role (for a kid).  Bettany is arguably the most interesting character in the film, and he is the center of humanity on the ship. 

There isn't any romance in the film; in fact, there's maybe one woman in the entire film, and she only appears on screen for at most 5 seconds, and she's clothed that entire time.  So don't go in expecting a romantic high seas adventure. 

The naval battles are cool, the highlight being the sound effects.  Apparently they recorded real artillery at a National Guard outpost somewhere.  The theater rumbles and it makes for an impressive experience.

Unfortunately, Master and Commander isn't really worth all the impressive rumbling.  It's not bad, but it's certainly not great.  Everything in the film seems to have been done before.  While this can be said for a great number of movies, Weir didn't make the material seem fresh or different from the pack.  We've seen naval battles before.  We've felt the unhappiness of the crew.  We've seen boarding parties.  We've seen obsessed captains.  We've seen big storms.  We may not have seen all of those elements put together in exactly this way, but it all feels re-hashed.  Perhaps that's because many of these elements are present in other seafaring films.  A lot of it appears in The Bounty.  And Moby Dick. And The Crimson PirateAnd Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn

Russell Crowe fans will want to check him out.  There has been buzz about another Academy Award (tm) nomination, even before the film was released (not that seeing the film has anything to do with a nomination).  He's good, but there's not nearly as much to the role as The Insider or A Beautiful Mind or Gladiator.  Hopefully his next film will be Inside the Mind of a Beautiful Gladiator.  But the Masked Reviewer digresses.

If you're expecting an epic like Gladiator, it's not quite there.  It is epic, but it's not brilliant.  It's a little bit slow and unfocused and too familiar to get overly excited about.

Don't miss the boat!  It's worth seeing if you have any interest in naval conflict.  If you like seamen, you'll get your fill from this film. 


Expectation from the Title: An S&M duo travel to China to attend a Kink Convention, but find it's all tops and no bottoms.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Russell Crowe seems to be doing much better since he got out of the hospital in A Beautiful Mind.

The Pros: Decent battle scenes, great sound, some solid performances.

The Cons: Seems too familiar and not new or creative.  Too many characters that aren't well-defined enough to know what's happening to who.


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