November 24, 2003

master and commander: the far side of the world (2003)

director: peter weir
starring: russell crowe, paul bettany, billy boyd, james d’arcy, edward woodall

it's aussies on the high sea! returning behind the camera for the first time since 1998's oh-so-subtle the truman show, peter weir delivers a slothful and overwrought behometh of a film with russell crowe at the helm. the film, running at just under two and a half hours, commits the worst crime possible in cinema: it is boring.

crowe plays the confident yet rash captain jack aubrey, and he has been tasked by the british navy to seek out the french warship acheron, which is trolling around in the south atlantic near brazil. the acheron, a much larger and more powerful ship than aubrey's, ambushes them early on and aubrey barely makes a getaway. from there on, it's a game of cat and mouse, the hunter becoming the hunted, and along the way we get to explore the relationships aboard a naval war vessel in the 1700s.

the ship's surgeon (paul bettany) provides the rational and logical counterpoint to aubrey's brash ways. he's not only a doctor, but he's also a naturalist, so he's got science on his side. when things go wrong (and they mostly do for the first half of the film), we get touching scenes in the captain's quarters where they have nice little heart to hearts. these mainly consist of aubrey ranting about duty and dr. maturin saying, 'well, maybe you shouldn't have done that.' by the time the captain actually takes his advice, we're supposed to think that this is some sort of character building moment, but it just comes off as trite.

the crew themselves are pretty much defined by what types of bad things befall them. this film suffers from 'the little girl in the patriot' syndrome, where the main character is so broadly drawn that the filmmakers decide to turn him into job to make us sympathize with his character. that hardly ever works, and the individual crewmember stories are never fleshed out and take time away from what could have been an in depth captain-doctor focal point. instead, we just get a big mess of stories that never really go anywhere and bog the film down.

of course, since this is a movie with warships, there's got to be some battles. well, there are, and they're really underwhelming, especially the end confrontation after suffering through the middle of the film like a beached whale. cannons fire, wood splinters, people yell, ships are boarded, swords are drawn, etc. this could have upped the ante a bit had it been done well, but weir's camera manages to turn muddy the action and totally break the pacing of the sequences. i imagine that he was going for a more realistic portrayal of naval combat and wanted to show the anarchy and confusion in battle, but he only caused confusion instead of conveying it.

the film's sets and costumes look good, though. everything has a grimy veneer, and it seems the fillmmakers did their research in bringing to the big screen the life of a seafaring warship. seeing aerial shots of the ships out to sea with folks standing on the masts make for some excellent shots as well. these alone, however, a good movie do not make, and forty minutes into the picture, i was cheering for the french to win.

rating: 4/10

Posted by kilgore at November 24, 2003 10:54 PM | TrackBack
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