Directed by: Peter Weir
Written by:Peter Weir, John Collee
Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy, Edward Woodall, Max Pirkis, Max Benitz
Released: December 4, 2003
Grade: A

I know others have already said it but watching Master And Commander brings back memories of classic movies from yesteryear.   It’s an epic of the grandest proportions complete with an untarnished screenplay with has escaped the red pen of studio big-wigs.  It’s somewhat sad that 20th Century Fox’s faith in the vision of Australian director Peter Weir hasn’t resulted in box-office success.  The film’s lacklustre performance in the States to date has been attributed to a negative response from female patrons who are looking for romance.  Honestly, if you pass up a glorious motion picture just because it’s missing a clichéd romance, it’s time to revaluate your priorities.

Weir begins with a bang.  On the open waters, Captain Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his English crew are suddenly fired upon by a much larger French vessel.  They survive only by sheer luck when a fog rolls in enabling them to disappear into the mist.  Much damaged has been sustained and the loyal crew expect Jack to give the order to return to Portsmouth.  Instead, he asks them to repair at sea and to prepare a counter-attack against the enemy.  Lucky Jack’s heart lies with his country and he will fight for it at any cost.

The ship’s surgeon and close friend Stephen Maturin (Bettany) voices his criticism of the decision.  He thinks it foolish to risk the lives of the young men aboard when the enemy is so much more powerful.  Stephen believes Jack’s pride is affecting his judgement and he does not see the risks for what they are.  It is time for important decisions to be made.

You can see where the $135m was spent when you look at the immaculate attention to detail.  The costumes and make-up applied to the crew are the work of only the very best.  The visual effects are flawless and you’ll never once question the realism of what appears in front of your eyes.  I was most impressed with the quality of sound and how the smallest of background noises still stick in my mind.  Nothing is ever second rate for Peter Weir and if you’ve seen any of his previous works, such as The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society or Gallipoli, you’ll know this already.

When you break it down, there aren’t a lot of specific action scenes.  There are only two major battles in total.  The attraction to the film is watching the sense of bonding amongst the crew and marvelling the work of a master tactictioner outcrafting a much larger opponent.  Who doesn’t love rooting for underdog?

Russell Crowe’s performance is superb (as expected) but don’t overlook the equally impressive Paul Bettany.  He can transform his voice and appearance with apparent ease.  It can’t possibly be the same guy we saw in A Knight’s Tale and A Beautiful Mind?  Let’s hope Academy voters feel the same way.  It’s a strong younger cast too with Weir uncovering some new stars who couldn’t have started their careers any better.

This is action at its very finest.  The kind of movie where you get caught up in the adventure and where the world outside the cinema is completely forgotten.  It’s great stuff.