It has been some time since I have expressed my views on a film, and I cannot think of a better one to resume this endeavor than Peter Weir's fine film detailing Captain Jack Aubrey's adventures as he pursues the French super-frigate, The Surprise. And surprise it does, twice.
Russell Crowe is called upon to portray the character from the Patrick O'Brian novels, and a superb job he does. He has yet to fail in his work in major films, and I do not see that he could take a downward turn at any time soon. He is a master at his craft thus far and I look forward to many more portrayals of both this character and several others. He perfectly captures the steely resolve, yet honest feelings of this Captain, especially when presented with an alternative in the person of his ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin played by Paul Bettany.
Bettany provides the perfect foil, intellectually, for Aubrey's brashness. When presented with the chance to forage for new species to satisfy Maturin's humanistic urges, Aubrey does not think twice when he sees his prey in his sights. Yet later, when given the choice between losing his best friend and catching the French vessel, he makes the only choice he can, to land and allow the doctor to perform surgery on himself of all things. What makes the entire relationship come full circle, I cannot say (in order not to spoil the film for you) but suffice it to say, the favor is repaid.
Not only do these two men respect one another and care for each other as friends, the also tend to spend quite a bit of time playing music with each other in times of quiet. I am led to believe this is a good part of the novels and it works very well here. It provides a wonderful downtime when the crew is not trying to catch or fight with the enemy. Further, it shows a certain intimacy that is not common among adventure films such as this. A bit headier, if you will.
The cast is rounded out by several actors whose names are not readily recognizable, other than Billy Boyd, of LOTR fame. All of them are spot on in their portrayals, especially young Max Pirkis as a young midshipman who straddles the line between warrior and thinker. In many ways, he is the link between the two opposing sides represented by Maturin and Aubrey.
The scenery is beautiful, though much of it is at sea. But what is done with the scenes aboard the ship is truly magnificent. When crossing around Cape Horn, the action is complete and precisely what one would think might be the case during this period. Further, there are two additional moments that add spice to this section. Watch it to find out. When on land, or near shore, Weir does a brilliant job to provide subtle yet beautiful sights that present this crew exactly as they are, be it playing cricket when waiting to hear of the doctor's fate, to refitting along the coast of Brazil.
The script is quite accurate for the time, and there are far too many lines to repeat here. Suffice it to say that I very much enjoyed the correctness of the speech and word usage. Phrasing and ship life are honored by the dialogue between these men and many times I found myself smiling for a time now past.
The only thing that bothered me were the action scenes. Once again, I found them to be too choppy for my taste. Prey forgive me, but I like to see it when a man is run through. I prefer to know who is getting what, and the quickness of the cuts did not afford me this privilege. Further, a major character has a moment late in the film that I would have preferred to see. Instead, we are shown the end result. Emotional still, it would have been two-fold had we seen it happen.
In the end, this is masterful filmmaking by the man who has brought us such wonderful films as The Year of Living Dangerously, The Mosquito Coast and Dead Poets Society. He wrote, produced and directed a wonderful film that might have won the Academy Award had it not been for Peter Jackson's tour-de-force trilogy. As it is, it was a pleasure to watch and will receive repeated viewings from this writer. I look at this film and say to myself - A Das Boot in the early 19th century! See it if you have not for you will not be disappointed. That is all.