Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Master and Commander

I watched Master and Commander three nights ago, my 11th movie in a theater this year.

I saw the trailer for Master and Commander while watching Mystic River last month. At the time, I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. Another pirate movie, I thought. Another Russell Crowe vehicle. Then the reviews came out. One after another, the critics were gushing about Master and Commander.

As the media revealed more about the film, I learned that the movie was based on Partrick O'Brian's naval history novels. I learned that the director, Peter Weir, directed two of my favorite movies: The Truman Show and Fearless. And even though I was going to give it pass because of Russell Crowe, I kept reminding myself that his acting in The Insider is a stellar acting performance that I keep revisiting on DVD.

The movie lived up the billing. Big action scenes. Sweeping vistas. This is a movie meant for the movie theater. It demands a theater viewing to properly enjoy the magnificent sound effects ("sound design"). It seemed as if your ears were constantly filled with the creaking and groaning of the old boat as it sailed the seas. Your ears were buffeted by the wind and sea in their highest rage. The music was often introduced by the two lead characters who played instruments (violin and cello) in the evenings.

Russell Crowe positively eats up the lead role of Captain Jack "Lucky" Aubrey. He is the captain of the English sailing ship, the HMS Surprise ("Surprise is on our side!"). He plays the big moments very big and very brash. He projects leadership, and by the end of the movie you can see why his crew followed him on his prideful, foolhardy endeavor of chasing after a much faster and more potent sailing ship, the French Acheron.

Paul Bettany played Dr. Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon. He was Captain Aubrey's confidant, and they fought like rival siblings. Dr. Maturin provided the movie's gruesone, eye-averting footage of early 19th century medical practices.

Anyone with even a passing interest in life on the open seas would enjoy this movie. The seascapes were fantastic. The close quarters and the inevitable "cabin fever" of 200 men on one small boat were clearly depicted. And lessons in leadership were on display, as the film explored the hierarchies of commanders and subordinates, and the strict price when leadership over men cannot be obtained.

I agree with the critics. This is a grand film. There are some slow moments, but thankfully it's in the middle. The beginning, the climax, and even the denouement showed big movie making at its best.

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