Saturday, April 7, 2012

Review: "Master and Commander" Was One of 2003's Best Films (Happy B'day, Russell Crowe)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 82 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Running time: 138 minutes (2 hours, 18 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense battle sequences, related images, and brief language
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
WRITERS: John Collee and Peter Weir (from the novels by Patrick O’Brian)
PRODUCERS: Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Duncan Henderson, and Peter Weir
EDITOR: Lee Smith
COMPOSERS: Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, and Richard Tognetti
Academy Award winner


Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy, Edward Woodall, Chris Larkin, Max Pirkis, Jack Randall, Max Benitz, Lee Ingleby, Richard Pates, Robert Pugh, and Richard McCabe

The subject of this movie review is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, a 2003 historical war drama. Much of the film’s plot comes from the 1984 novel, The Far Side of the World.

One of the best films of 2003 is Australian director Peter Weir’s film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It was also one of the most honored films of the year, earning many award nominations and capturing quite a few critical prizes, including wins of two Oscars (for Russell Boyd’s cinematography and Richard King’s sound editing). It’s on my very short list of best pictures of the year, and it’s one of the best films of the last half-decade.

Based upon an outline in the tenth book of Patrick O’Brian’s series of 20 novels about Lucky Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), the British Royal Navy’s greatest fighting captain, and his ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), Master and Commander is set during the Napoleonic Wars. The brash Lucky Jack pushes the crew of his ship, the Surprise, in pursuit of a formidable French frigate, the Acheron. The Acheron launches a sneak attack on the Surprise near Brazil. Although his ship is heavily damaged, Lucky Jack, the “Master” of the Surprise and the “Commander” of his men, chases the Acheron around South America, all leading to a daring showdown near the Galapagos Islands.

As an expensive film production by three of the biggest film studios in the world (Fox, Miramax, and Universal), Master and Commander is blessed with a big production budget that guaranteed that the film would look brilliant and the technical aspects of the film would be quite good. But what makes this film is that the basics are topnotch. First, the story is a rousing sea adventure, something that is sure to please the male audience – there’s something to the lure of the sea. When a sea adventure movie is done well, we have a memorable film on our hands.

Secondly, the Peter Weir, one of the great directors of the last three or so decades (and one of the most underrated and under-appreciated in proportion to his talent and work) simply makes this a grand movie: a brilliant tale of fighting men, camaraderie, brotherhood, and old-fashioned adventure that is the superb and perfect vicarious experience for those of us that have never had to run from a cannonball or live through the hardships of naval life during wartime.

Last, but not least, is a collection of excellent performances. It goes without saying that Russell Crowe was good. Can he ever be bad? In the tradition of old Hollywood stars, Crowe allows his film personality to shine through every performance. There’s a basic template that we recognize no matter how disparate the roles he takes. Still, he’s the great method actor who can also bury himself in a part.

However, I must also give shout outs to Paul Bettany as the ship surgeon, Dr. Maturin. He well plays Maturin as both confidant and foil to Crowe’s’ Aubrey. A child talent to watch is Max Pirkis, as the young Lord Blakeney, Midshipman. I think Pirkis’ character is the one the audience lives through, as we, like him, are novices. Pirkis’ performance is open and invites us in to suffer the hardships, enjoy the good times, and learn from his experiences. His performance is so good and plays such an important part in the film’s success that it can be considered a gift.

I heartily endorse Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Not only is it good drama, it’s also an adventure film likely to stand the test of time, and if it doesn’t, it’s still damn fine for the here and now.

10 of 10

2004 Academy Awards: 2 wins: “Best Cinematography” (Russell Boyd) and “Best Sound Editing” (Richard King); 8 nominations: “Best Picture” (Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Weir, and Duncan Henderson), “Best Director” (Peter Weir), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (William Sandell-art director and Robert Gould-set decorator), “Best Costume Design” (Wendy Stites), “Best Film Editing” (Lee Smith), “Best Makeup” (Edouard F. Henriques and Yolanda Toussieng), “Best Sound Mixing” (Paul Massey, Doug Hemphill, and Art Rochester), and “Best Visual Effects” (Daniel Sudick, Stefen Fangmeier, Nathan McGuinness, and Robert Stromberg)

2004 BAFTA Awards: 4 wins: “Best Costume Design” (Wendy Stites), “Best Production Design” (William Sandell), “Best Sound” (Richard King, Doug Hemphill, Paul Massey, and Art Rochester), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Peter Weir); 4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Stefen Fangmeier, Nathan McGuinness, Robert Stromberg, Daniel Sudick), and “Best Cinematography” (Russell Boyd), “Best Film” (Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Weir, and Duncan Henderson), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Paul Bettany)

2004 Golden Globes: 3 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Peter Weir), “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Russell Crowe)


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