Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Exciting, enveloping authenticity arrives early and often in 2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World — the chop of dark-grave waves, harsh swipes of pumice across a bloodstained deck, the wet amputation of a gangrenous injured arm, an aged warship bobbling as it’s battered by a faster foe.
Director Peter Weir makes the good ship Surprise a world to explore, not a splashy CGI simulation. Like a human body, the boat stays afloat through a series of complex processes — a breathing, sometimes seething being.
Based on Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic War novels, this knockout mix of organic elegance, reflective drama and aggressive action placed Weir’s spectacle on a visual and emotional par with Sir David Lean.
Russell Crowe is British Capt. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, whose pursuit of French warship Acheron forces him to face the flipside of the fortune that often favors him. His tenacity tests his men and boys’ morale and his friendship with Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), the ship’s doctor and naturalist.
Building on their rapport in A Beautiful Mind, Crowe and Bettany engage in thoughtful discourse atypical of a high-stakes adventure. They trade resentment and rage about notions of conquering and leadership, but also unlikely inspirations.
Jack discovers his strategizing could take a thing or two from the secrets of the adaptable nature surrounding him, while Stephen learns that “commander” is a title bestowed and “master” one earned solely through respect.
Employing brain and brawn, Weir examined the chaos of 19th-century war with intellectually stimulating thrills.