This ambitious seafaring epic almost holds its rickety hull together thanks to Russell Crowe’s intense, broad-shouldered star power and Peter Weir’s minute attention to period detail. Though outgunned and outclassed, the British vessel HMS Surprise tracks the movements of the mighty Acheron, a French privateer ship in the service of Napoleon. Lucky Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his mates are nearly destroyed in the opening battle, and despite the protestations of the film’s moral voice (Paul Bettany, playing the ship’s doctor) Lucky Jack vows revenge in the name of Queen and Country. Weir lays on all the details of a rough-hewn life at sea, all barnacles and knots and filth. But Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World doesn’t fare so well script-wise, with tacked-on conflicts aboard the ship (the sailors seem to invent drama for themselves to fill out the picture’s running time) and sea battles hyper-edited in the distracting chop-chop style of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. Master and Commander is never bold or romantic, too mired down in hoary seriousness. It’s unfortunately dull—the kiss of death for a movie that’s supposed to swash and buckle. Bettany frowns his way through his second banana role as Crowe’s Jiminy Cricket, and the rest of the cast is lost in the general mire (though child actor Max Pirkis makes a winning impression as midshipman Lord Blakeney, a pugnacious one-armed lad who imitates the masculine bravado of Crowe and the bookish reserve of Bettany). Crowe steals the show, though, doing the best he can to compress both lead performances from 1935’s The Mutiny on the Bounty—the long-winded haughtiness of Charles Laughton and the strapping manliness of Clark Gable—into one rough n’ tumble star turn. Redeeming himself for his grotesque showboating performance in A Beautiful Mind, Crowe finds able footing as a man’s man action hero.
- Peter Weir
- Peter Weir, John Collee
- Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy, Edward Woodall, Chris Larkin, Max Perkis, David Threlfall, Billy Boyd
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