Rating: 8 out of 10
Here’s a film that is perfectly suited to creating a time and place down to each little subtle detail. The ships, the costumes, the atmosphere, and the performances reek of authenticity. You are completely transported back to the Napoleonic wars and seeing what life and combat were like on the deck of a British naval vessel. The difficulties of daily living are well presented here. Medical facilities were experts in amputation instead of actual healing, mutiny was always a possibility, and defeat of a warring vessel meant not only one less ship for the enemy but one more for you after you took it over.
The film is at its strongest when it’s embodying that time and place and at its weakest when it’s dealing with interpersonal relationships and story flow. The plot is simple but hollow. Russell Crowe plays the British Captain Jack Aubry and has been sent after one of Napoleon’s vessels to follow and track its movements, and if possible, destroy it. The crew finds out quickly that the opposing ship has them out manned and outgunned. They decide that they have to use guile and outsmart their opponent in order to achieve victory. If you’re expecting a character study, you’re not going to get it.
We learn very little about the individual characters on the ship. The captain is known as being lucky and has lived his life at sea, the doctor is his close friend, and the other officers have very little dialogue save for dinner parties when they let their guard down. If you can get past the shallow characterizations and enjoy the film for what it is, it’s a great study of historical naval combat strategy and the on board vessel living of a crew during wartime. Peter Weir has created a film on water that looked painfully difficult to create and is heavy on details. If you’re any bit of a history nut, you’re in for a treat.