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"Master And Commander... "

THIS IS a movie not in any great hurry to end. And the viewer better not be too, or he/she could slump back in boredom. This is more a work of art where you need to savour the frames, their composition and the insidious characterisations. It takes a while, but half way through you understand the magic of this film presented by 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Miramax.

And it is possibly a foolhardy but brave film that depends so much on the power of Russell Crowe's performance and the intense yet calm moments of a great nautical adventure. Its grandeur lies in its motivation to present life on a warship in the 1800s so far away from the shores of home — but paradoxically also contains itself when it does that.

The film has been inspired by Patrick O'Brien's series of 20 historical novels from which Peter Weir and co-writer John Collee have taken bits and pieces. The books by themselves are romantic chronicles of life on sea and the following adventure and friendships formed. The film thus captures the silent but strong male bonding between the heroic, deeply respected, Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), for whom the country's honour is above everything, and the ship's surgeon, Stephen (Paul Bettany), who is an Irishman and a naturalist with a sense of fairness and justice sometimes in conflict with that of the Captain and the crew members. Besides, his duties as a surgeon on a warship can be rather grisly. The story is rather simple. Set in the time of the Napoleonic wars of 1805, a French frigate the Acheron has found its way near the coastal waters near Brazil, and Captain Jack Aubrey of HMS Surprise is sent out to destroy it.

The Acheron is bigger and better equipped than his. A sneak attack launched by the Acheron cripples Aubrey's rudder and sends his men on a boat. Aubrey presses on a pursuit even though his friend, the surgeon questions his decision. Is it based on pride or loyalty? Aubrey's orders are to keep Napolean's war at bay. And the men of the ship do not know why they fight other than the orders they have been given by the Captain they revere and honour. That is the kind of respect he commands and Crowe does come up with a performance that is commanding, pardon the cliché.

The ship itself is an amazing set — massive and sprawling, yet congested and cramping. All the nooks and crannies groan with the movement and the wooden framework provides the sense of the past.

For all the battle scenes, the film is not about action. Its more about the times when wars were fought on the treacherous seas, about a job, its hardships and its joys. Sacrifices are part of it and usually honour and obedience are what made such wonderful seafarers. However, there is a lack of fluidity in almost all the battle scenes and you really have to strain to see who is lunging at whom. Plus there is no additional information about all the men and their backgrounds.

The effects and camera work (Russell Boyd) hold the film together and fine moments such as the one where the surgeon performs his own surgery and those at the Galapagos Islands where the naturalist finds delight, depict the synergy between Crowe and Bettany.

CHITRA MAHESH

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