Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (review)
Where Pulp Meets Art
This isn't what I was expecting. I figured on clanging swords and thundering cannons and lots of swashbuckling, but this buckles far less swash than I imagined it would. I was expecting pulpy action adventure that was a whole lot of movie fun -- I wasn't expecting pulpy action adventure with real smarts and genuine heart and a grounding in reality. I was expecting that I would be reminded most of Pirates of the Caribbean that it would just be rollicking and jaunty and a great ride. But in fact I'm reminded most, of all movies, of Hulk -- as Ang Lee did earlier this year, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World elevates pulp fiction to art. I don't have to qualify my praise for this all-
Still, I should have known that Master and Commander would turn out to be is so much more, so much better than my already high expectations had hoped for. This is a Peter Weir film, and Weir makes beautiful films -- I think in every Weir film I've seen, there's at least one moment that is so breathtakingly stunning that it's stuck with me forever. The silhouettes of the boys stealing across the night-
And yet Master and Commander isn't merely visually striking -- it's a triumph of visual storytelling as well. Weir (The Truman Show) and John Collee -- who spun magic from pulp as a writer for the BBC's short-
It's such a simple story, really, that Master and Commander has to tell, of the months-
The remarkable performances of the entire cast add a richness to the film that it would not succeed without -- this is the rare action movie in which the particular instances of daring or sacrifice or combat are vital to the depiction of the characters as real, complicated people and not mere obstacle courses for them to navigate and survive in order to get to the next scene. If they didn't breathe for us, and if we didn't care about them, the film would be nothing. Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, Proof of Life) lets fly with a twinkle in his eye and a constant flirtation with a sly grin, his Aubrey never more alive than when sailing headfirst into mortal danger. Paul Bettany (The Heart of Me, A Knight's Tale) takes a giant leap forward as an actor with his Stephen Maturin, the ship's doctor and a bit of a pacifist, seething with frustration and fondness for his friend Aubrey, whom he terms a "predator" and suspects of recklessness in the pursuit of duty even while it pains him to be the sole man aboard ship who can tell him this.
But the real revelation is 13-
You can't miss this film. It's too perfect an example of what a movie should be: visually and emotionally enrapturing and full of people who, now that you've met them, you don't ever want to leave. I can't say enough good things about it, and I can't find a single bad thing to say, either. This is pretty much as good as it gets.
Fri Nov 14 03, 12:47AM
by MaryAnn Johanson
MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, related images and brief language
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
In My Skin and Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films (review)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (review)