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Staring:  Russell Crowe and a bunch of other people.


Directed by:  Peter Weir (who also co-produced the movie and co-wrote the screenplay).


Written by:  Peter Weir and John Collee wrote the screenplay. Patrick O’Brian wrote the novel this movie is based on.


The Scoop


When one looks at the work that Peter Weir has done in the past (The Truman Show, Fearless, The Dead Poet’s Society, Green Card, and The Mosquito Coast are the main ones) it is hardly surprising that this is an awesome movie.  When you add Russell to the mix and consider the popularity of the Master and Commander novels … well, I guess that would make one less likely to be surprised at how good this movie is.  In fact, this movie is so good that I am willing to ignore the fact that Patrick O’Brian apparently played Satan in that 1989 cinematographic fiasco UHF (Weird Al Yankovic’s movie).


But why was Master and Commander so good?  Well, there were many reasons, most of which depend for validity upon how unlike a standard Hollywood movie this was.  Of course, it had all the big special effects and production values that we have come to expect from Holywood but it lacked the simple-minded stupidity that has also been ever-present in the modern American movie.


To begin with, almost nothing in this movie is explained and, when something is explained the explanation is not painfully aimed at those audience members who have not yet mastered tying their own shoes.  More importantly, it turns out that the (sub) standard level of (over) explanation is not necessary to have a movie that people understand and enjoy (go figure).  For example, in Master and Commander it seems a bit odd that many of the officers on board the ship are just barely teenagers (if that) while the crew is primarily much older (and grizzly).  I personally would guess that this would be due to the wealthy purchasing commissions for their children and sending them off to serve in the navy (although I could be wrong).  Whatever the reason is, however, the audience is never told why these young men are officers, commanding those who obviously have more experience.  You know what? It turns out that this information isn’t really important.


Another major aspect which sets this movie above the standard drivel is the fact that, while there is no real ending to it, there is no sloppy last scene that sets us up for an obvious sequel (although there is room for a sequel, there is just no sloppy last scene).  This movie tells the story about one series of events in the lives of the captain and his crew but allows that these people have had experiences before hand and will have experiences afterwards without either over explaining the past or explicitely demonstrating that there will be a future.  Like real people the characters have lives and we are only seeing a small portion of a larger picture. 


Related to the breadth that these characters were given is the fact that they do not instantly develop as the plot of the movie is resolved.  There is not a plateau where, at the end of the movie, now that the primary goal has been achieved, the characters suddenly level off into fulfilled (yet two dimensional) beings.  Whether there is a sequel to this movie or not, this movie leaves you with the definite understanding that there is more in store for these people.  This flies in the face of what one might assume is the rule in Holywood whereby it is only safe to have a definite ending or show the beginning of the sequel but never to show the reality based effect that life is more than the story currently being told.


Of course, the acting is superb, the special effects are amazing and the story is compelling.  The apparent attention to historical detail is also commendable partularly as it allows this movie to be very exciting without ever being hoaky.  Thus, the battle scenes are fearsome but not at all glamerous and the heroes are fearless without ever losing touch with the fact that they are human.


I would highly recommend this movie as one of the best action films you are going to see this (or any) year and advise that the big screen is where you want to see this film if you can still get to it there.  Otherwise, rent away.

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