14 November 2003

After seeing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, I'll have to concede that all the things I admire about Tom Cruise (his obsession with quality control, his shrewd way of choosing projects, and his willingness to take on challenging parts with great directors) apply equally, and perhaps with more reason, to Russell Crowe. Crowe is by far the better actor, of course, and his recent string of home runs is almost as impressive as Cruise's: L.A. Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator, and A Beautiful Mind are filled with enough energy and versatility for an entire career...and they were made over a period of just under five years or so. Even Proof of Life was tough, intelligent, and satisfying as long as Crowe was onscreen.

And Master and Commander is so deeply satisfying, so well-crafted and lean, that I can barely believe that it was made for $120 million. It may be the most impressive $100 million+ blockbuster ever made, and just about the only one with a good story. Most "epic" films, even the great ones, suffer from an indifferent script or characterization; I loved Gangs of New York, for example, but not because I cared about (or knew) what was happening, or why. Master and Commander is so tightly constructed and written, by contrast, that it would seem like the most expensive novella ever made, if it weren't so rich with detail and incident. The only worthy comparison is with Bridge On the River Kwai. See it.

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