(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
I haven't read any of the Patrick O'Brian books on which this movie is based. So I am not biased as I would be when seeing, for instance, The Lord of the Rings. Although, I hear that some of the O'Brian fans have had the same reaction to Master and Commander as I did to the first two installments of The Lord of the Rings. But I liked the movie. Master and Commander is a simple story. It is 1805, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, and a British warship has been sent to find and catch a French warship. But the French do the catching and the British ship is almost sunk. The captain of the British ship (Russell Crowe) won't give up and begins chasing the other ship across the seven seas with the obsession of Captain Ahab. Except that he's a kinder and gentler Ahab, beloved by his crew and who plays violin accompanied by the ship's doctor (Paul Bettany) on the Cello. By the way, the timeframe of the movie has been changed from the book (it was 1812) so that the enemies aren't Americans. Very good for the box office I'm sure.
This film is a lot more interesting than say, Pirates of the Caribbean. The characters in Master and Commander are well done and have at least two dimensions. They don't even make the French into inhuman devils. At one point, Crowe is wondering about the French Captain and Bettany points out that "he fights like you, Jack." Crowe is perfect for this role as is Bettany as his friend and foil. These two characters resemble many in stories like this one, including Bones and Kirk on Star Trek. The doctor is not a military man and so brings another point of view to the straight arrow captain. The crew of the warship is full of English character actors who look vaguely familiar through their makeup. David Threffal, who plays the Captain's Steward, was in Russia House and most famously was Smike in the 8 hour RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby. George Innes, the able seaman with the hole in his head, has been in everything from Upstairs Downstairs to Last Orders. Billy Boyd, despite the scar, is instantly recognizable as Pippin from The Lord of the Rings. These actors make Master and Commander an ensemble piece despite the star power of Crowe. Since it is a small ship with about 270 people on board, there is always someone standing six inches away from your face.
Master and Commander is directed by Peter Weir. He's directed several of my favorite films such as The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness and The Mosquito Coast. He's very good and he does a good job here. There's not much extraneous stuff. There's no sex, no women at all actually, except for one scene. There's no car chases just one helluva a boat chase. And, that's really the Galapagos Islands that they visit, not a backlot. Most of the sailing scenes were shot in the tank that they used for Titanic though. The story is simple and Weir keeps it that way. The film is bookended by two big battles between the English and French ships. In between we get a good feeling for the endless day-after-day sameness of sailing around the world and how never being able to be alone makes you just a little bit irritable. Anyway, it's very entertaining and worth seeing.