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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Master And Commander

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Judy Thorburn

Master And Commander

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RUSSELL CROWE BRINGS AUTHORITY TO ROLE AS “MASTER AND COMMANDER”

This past summer Pirates of the Caribbean, was a movie box office hit that revived a genre missing from movie screens. Adventure on the high seas was not something theatregoers had seen in a long time, and it proved, if done well, was certainly welcomed back.  But, while Pirates was an exciting fun filled excursion for the whole family accentuated by the shear brilliance of Johnny Depp’s eccentric pirate performance, Master and Commander – Far Side of the World, has the stamp of Peter Weir (The Mosquito Coast, Witness) a producer/ writer/director known for more intellectually stimulating fare, and whose work is recognized by more mature audiences. You can expect that from any of his films, and that is what you get with this new release.

Based on a series of historical novels by Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander stars Oscar winner Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind) in yet another solid performance.  Since introduced to American audiences in L.A. Confidential, New Zealand born Crowe has been on a roll, making a mark for himself in the U.S. with a continuous string of Oscar worthy performances.  And, this is no exception. As Captain  “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, Crowe is just as the title implies, master and commander of the English naval warship HMS Surprise, employed by the King to intercept and sink the French enemy ship Archeron during the Napoleanic war in 1805.  Even when his ship is attacked and suffers heavy damage, repairs are made so that the Captain and his faithful crew can undertake a cat and mouse chase that takes them to Brazil, Cape Horn, and the Galapogos Islands, in other words, the far side of the world.  With plans of retaliation and fierce determination to blow their stronger and faster nemesis out of the water, it becomes a journey for victory, at whatever the cost.

For the first thirty minutes I was basically unimpressed by what seemed a slow moving tale. But, as the story develops and the action picks up you can’t help but be drawn into the nautical epic that has the relationship between the daring Captain and his crew as the backbone of the story. While most believe in their mission to eradicate the enemy, a few see the Captain as their bible’s Jonah leading them into defeat, but still stay steadfast in following his orders.  Not having read the novels, of which I’ve been told Crowe has little physical resemblance to his character, he, nevertheless, appears perfectly cast as the daring and bold captain, a strong willed soldier eager to serve his country. Crowe’s imposing stature easily portrays Captain Jack as a steadfast leader, but also a man with a very human side, be it his love for playing the violin or joy in relating humorous anecdotes or a good joke while dining with his subordinates.

Paul Bettany, who costarred with Crowe as his imaginary roommate in A Dangerous Mind, is again impressive, this time as Dr. Stephen Maturin, the ship’s surgeon and close friend of the Captain. More the philosopher and naturalist interested in studying new species of insects and animal than going to war, he finds himself butting heads with his friend, the soldier leader, when they aren’t sharing music together.  It’s a very interesting relationship, one that is filled with respect.

However, one of the most memorable performances comes from one of the younger supporting players, Max Pinkis as Lord Blakeney, a twelve-year-old crewmember with the strength and fortitude of a man.   Blonde and angelic looking, he possesses the courage and conviction to withstand anything thrown his way, whether following the orders of his Captain in battle, or suffering the pain of having his arm amputated. He also bonds with the doctor, taking a keen interest in drawing unusual insect finds and learning from his elder. This is a naturally gifted young actor who demanded my attention, and practically stole the film. Another noted role is that of midshipman Hollum (Lee Ingleby), who lacked confidence as a leader and failed to gain respect from the crew, something that he could not live with.

Acting aside, I wouldn’t go so far as to say Master and Commander is a great movie.  It is a good movie that has some incredible visual effects created by the team of CGI experts at ILM. Their artistry is absolutely amazing and so seamless it is almost impossible to tell that the special effects are not real. Everything about the production, from the costumes, set design, superb cinematography that captures the spectacular battle scenes or storms at sea, is authentically reproduced giving Master and Commander a feel of realism unsurpassed.

I guess you can call this guy’s film. With no women around to add to the plotline, the men control the action and the entire story.  Yet, as a woman I must admit Russell Crowe brings more than authority to his role.  He is definitely a draw. As a whole, I would recommend Master and Commander for the sum of its parts, which from my point of view, is a see-worthy adventure.