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March 8, 2004 | by  | in Film |
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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Films like these further a hard truth about most movie awards- set your standard clichéd action plot in the 19th Century, regale this flimsy plot in costumes and old English dialect and congratulations, and you have a sweeping epic on your hand. I can’t really say I liked this film, it had its moments, but it’s very dull in places and the plot isn’t very exciting or intelligent. Leaving the film I was frustrated – why do films like this get so much attention for awards? Are they really intelligent and epic cinematic journeys? Or just period-piece Die Hard descendents?

Master and Commander starts with an attack on the HMS Surprise by the evil French super-ship ‘Archeron’ – it’s bigger and faster and really smokes poor Russell’s ship. Instead of returning home Captain ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe ) repairs the ship at sea and sets off in search of revenge. What is his motivation – pride or England? Will they make it back alive?

The opening attack scene is clunky and unexciting – I couldn’t really tell who was attacking who. Director Peter Weir then opts for very little character development, filling the next hour with a little too much sea jargon, sailing shots and cheesy, back slapping, British bravado. A few times I could have almost tricked myself into thinking I was watching multi-million dollar recreations of America’s Cup footage. The acting is a little wooden at times as Weir lets the rather limited plot drive the film – leaving the majority of characters as mere faces in the crowd. The film gets a little momentum and depth in the third quarter as Weir begins to explore the psychology of a long tenure at sea and the end attack scene is well shot and exciting, if a little predictable and anti-climactic. Just to confuse things a little, Master and Commander delivers a bloody good twist, then ends promptly – with no resolution.

Paul Bettany is excellent as the conscientious doctor – the film’s one constant high point. Russell Crowe plays the smug Jack Aubrey confidently, but you get the feeling he doesn’t even have to try for a role like this. Give me Insider or A Beautiful Mind any day.

Master and Commander is a shallow and unintelligent epic. Semi-enjoyable in places, it does nothing to convince me of its apparent status as award winning cinema. In fact – I’d put Die Hard ahead of this in quality stakes- its plot was cooler and seeing Bruce Willis yell ‘Yippee Ki-yay’ at bad guys was far more exciting than Russell Crowe’s guttural cries of “FOR ENGLAND”!

Director: Peter Weir

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James Robinson is a university dropout turned journalist who likes to pretend he has an honours degree. Turn ons include soup, scarfs, a hot bath and some FM-smooth Kenny G-esque instrumental jazz. Turn offs include student politicians, the homeless, and people who pronounce it supposebly.

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