Master and Commander


On an evening when I could be trying to make up for my shockingly poor knowledge of films and books, I have decided to write another entry on another film I haven’t seen. In fact I had got half way through the Machinist but grew weary despite quite enjoying it. I suppose the fact that the director is called Brad made it hard for me to take it sufficiently seriously. I remain optimistic however that I will finish it at some point in my life. In the meantime, here’s a review of Master and Commander, as suggested by my chum, Nobody. If I’m completely honest I harbour no real intention of ever watching this, but I’m sure it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of celluloid.


Much (approximately 76%) of the action of Master and Commander takes place in what James Joyce called ‘the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea’. But the sea of Master and Commander is this and so much more. It is a bulging carapace; a threatening whirligig; a sweaty, frothing feast for the eye. The sea has never looked this good. Even in the scenes in which the camera hovers lovingly over Russell Crowe’s candle-lit jowls, we know it is there – waiting, watching, whispering. It steals every scene: blustering up against the frigid bodies of confused sailors who cannot help but bow to its superior majesty; pouting and sulking on the horizon in a manner that recalls – and, in the opinion of this humble reviewer, surpasses – Brando’s performance in ‘A streetcar named desire’.


But Crowe and his co-star Paul Bettany (the respective Master and Commander of the title) give the sea a good run for its money. In one memorable scene Crowe stalks round a seated Bettany while reciting an ancient, moving poem about squid, as Bettany laughs a profound laugh of heterosexual enjoyment. The action is free, sparkly, fun and dynamic. In another equally memorable scene, Crowe shows Bettany how to tie a reef knot. Bettany’s simple, happy face as he disentangles the knot, and by extension, the convoluted thread of his own existence, is a wonder to behold.


Where the film falls down is in its somewhat unreconstructed depiction of the French navy as toothless, lisping humpbacks. Come on guys, surely you can do better than this? Equally poor are the costumes. Crowe’s breeches were breathtakingly anachronistic and I don’t know what Admiral Spute (played with commendable poise by Brian Blessed) had on his head, but it most certainly was not what the real Admiral Spute would have called a hat.


This film would have received a 9 were it not for its racism and bad wardrobe, which mean that, as a responsible reviewer, I have no choice but to give it an 8.


2 Responses to “Master and Commander”

  1. oldrope Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the sea begin its career on Byker Grove? Perhaps it’s just one of those urban myths.

    Since she has no opposable thumbs but is doing her best to participate in my response to this commendable review, it is perhaps fair to briefly articulate the opinions of activist, artist and film-maker, Yoko Ono.

    She thinks this film is ‘lamentable’ and notes it’s use of form and structure to prop up conventional notions of film and narrative. It ‘neither challenges nor provokes’ and at best ‘serves only to reiterate the redundancies of celluloid as a medium of expression and human experience’.

    But what does she know, she is only a cat.

  2. johnlebaptiste Says:

    To clarify, for readers, Old Rope is a longstanding fellow-labourer of mine, with whom I have toiled in the sweaty vineyards of bloggery with for, oo, I don’t know, about three days. He actually owns a cat called Yoko Ono and probably owns a beaver called Harry Nillson. Check out his blog, on everything from fried breakfasts and getting trapped in parks to cat-loving and musical matters:

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