|Master and Commander (2003)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd
Director: Peter Weir
Peter Weir's war epic "Master and Commander" is the most realistic experience you'll have on the sea since Ridley Scott's "White Squall." The film ditches the use of special effects in favor of the real starkness of nature in a cast-driven production that will nonetheless test both your patience and interest.
Capt. "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) commands his ship around Brazil as he and his crew chase a phantom French vessel named the Acheron in an attempt to halt Napoleon's conquest at the shores of Britain. Joining him on the voyage is his friend, and the ship's surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), who along with healing the wounded after each battle also serves as the captain's counsel.
Short on plot, it's surprising that Weir allows the film to go as long as it does. After an opening act filled with brilliant action sequences and entertaining banter amongst the crew, the film digresses from an interesting tour of the sea to a tedious and lifeless bore. The film has so much to say at once, so many characters to develop, and so many side stories, that its true purpose is constantly interrupted. The audience is introduced to a flurry of characters, and instead of taking the time to fully develop three or four, it jumps back and forth between each one so quickly that you tend to get a little seasick yourself.
Crowe delivers yet another remarkable performance as Aubrey, but it's Bettany who deserves the Oscar nod as the captain's friend and musical partner; their violin and cello duets offering beautiful accompaniment to the film's score. Although the movie runs into some problems during its bloated second act, the ending is rewarding enough to make it all worthwhile. "Pirates of the Caribbean" is still a far superior sea-based adventure, but whereas that film focuses more on light-hearted fun, "Master and Commander" has the prestige and emotion that tends to go over better with members of the Academy.