Friday, 10 April 2009

Movie Review - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

The initial plot is pretty simple – an English naval ship is attacked out of the blue by a French frigate. The French protagonist can out-man, out-gun, and out-sail the English vessel, but they manage to escape. The Captain, however, refuses to simply sail home and refit – the enemy must be caught and destroyed… somehow… and not all the crew think that going after such an enemy is a brilliant

The lead roles (the English ship’s Captain – “Lucky Jack” and Doctor) are played by the brilliant Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, who worked together so fantastically in A Beautiful Mind, though the characters they play here are very different. Though the film has its fair share of action and there are several other memorable characters, the film is effectively a character study of these two men, and how their surroundings, duties, and the events on board the ship affect them and their relationship. Though they appear to be at different ends of the spectrum (the Captain is very much a military man and very pragmatic while the Doctor favours a more pacifist approach and just wants to study nature), they have many similarities – particularly stubbornness – and a sense of loyalty and honour. At times these qualities are on the brink of being consumed, and their shared love of music seems to be all that keeps them from being enemies. The way the characters are portrayed is brilliant – from the Captain’s anguish at some of the decisions he has to make and the consequences of these actions to the Doctor’s feeling out of place at mealtimes when naval banter and jokes are flying around the room. The characterisation is deeper than in any other film I’ve seen in the past couple of years – in fact, since I saw A Beautiful Mind.

There are many other characters of note, especially impressive were the distraught midshipman who was literally out of his depth, the young seaman who endured an amputation, another slightly older seaman who became a hero, and a crazy old guy who went around quoting obscure (or, occasionally, appropriate) biblical passages and basically thought everyone was cursed at one time or another.

I’ve deliberately kept the above description as vague as possible while still containing as many relevant details as possible, because such an amazing film deserves much more than a skimpy review. I’m sure that there are plenty of detractors who will tell you that this film is overlong and boring, of course – there’s a fair bit of action, but atmosphere, mood, character development, and humour (somewhat surprisingly for this sort of film – but it works!) are the really important aspects of this film. Peter Weir (Director, Producer, Screenplay) understands that having unbearable tension all the way through the film diminishes its effectiveness, and Master & Commander strikes the fine balance between tension, action, emotion, and thoughtfulness perfectly.

It’s refreshing to find a film of this type (or any type, come to think of it!) having very few obscenities in it (in fact I think there were only two in the whole film). The violence in the battle scenes is fairly graphic but not as gory as in, for instance, Gladiator or Cold Mountain, or possibly even Troy. A few operations are shown, but you don’t really get shown any gore. The certification it received was probably due as much to the fact that children just wouldn’t understand the undercurrents of what was going on than actual content – they would probably find it too boring because there’s a lot of talking and planning scenes.

The special effects are good and the feeling of being at sea is convincing (beware if you suffer from sea-sickness…), but what really deserves mention is the cinematography – it’s glorious. I haven’t been as impressed with any film’s cinematography as much as this for a very long time – much kudos to Russell Boyd! The musical score suits the film perfectly.

Crowe and Bettany are superb but none of the cast disappoint. The script may be too slow for some people’s taste, but to my mind it is perfect – thankfully resisting the temptation to give Crowe a pointless love interest, which could have ruined the movie. Overall, just about everything is as good as it could have been. Three thumbs up!

No comments: