Master and Commander is the story of Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), a sea captain that is sent with his ship to intercept a French privateer in 1805. It’s the middle of the Napoleonic wars, and England is in under threat of invasion. Only their fleet is preventing Napoleon’s complete control of Europe, so the threat is very real. A privateer is a ship that operates outside of the official chain of command, with a charter from a country to attack its enemies. So, it’s basically a pirate ship with the sanction of a particular country.
The French privateer is on its way to the Pacific Ocean, where it will attack British interests. The Surprise (the British Man o’ War) is supposed to intercept the Acheron (the French privateer) off the coast of Brazil. Instead, the Acheron surprises the Surprise and heavily damages it, almost destroying it except for some lucky fog.
The Surprise now realizes that the Acheron is a superior ship- that it’s bigger, faster, more heavily armed and armored, and with more crew. Captain Aubrey’s officers believe that they must turn back, but Aubrey decides that duty and the importance of the mission requires them to continue on, which they do. The movie is the story of the crew’s bravery and resourcefulness in trying to catch the Acheron and to defeat it in battle.
This was a very enjoyable movie. Crowe is great as always, but it’s not a movie driven by star power. There are a great many other fine performances, most notably Paul Bettany as the ship’s doctor. The battle scenes are very tense and engaging, and the editing of the movie is tight. The editing in particular is worth a note- the movie was over two hours long (138 minutes exactly) but did not drag at all. I never wondered to myself, “How long has this been on?”, a sure-fire sign that a movie is longer than it ought to be.
Above all, this is a manly movie, and not manly like we define it today. Not manly like the Man Show; manly like The Sands of Iwo Jima. These are tough men facing tough choices, and are guided by their courage and integrity, not by their emotions or desires. Above all, there is duty. The love of their country and loyalty to each other drives them to do tough things, things they don’t want to do. It’s a welcome change from the typical morality of Hollywood movies, which usually has the carefree rebel in the role as the moral center, and the military man is usually the repressed psychopath.
Another welcome change was its presentation of the Christianity of the men. Hardly a dominant feature of the movie, but we see the captain praying for forgiveness from God at one point, and all the men of the ship praying the Lord’s prayer at another.
It’s bloody, though. Probably not a great movie for little kids, for that reason. Otherwise, I’d heartily recommend it.
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