Archives for posts with tag: war

Herman Wouk’s novel about the last few years before the Second World War goes for coverage, both geographically and circumstantially. It smacks, rather, of a modern War & Peace, following several, sometimes overlapping threads. This works better in a book, but this series gives it the old college try.

MV5BMzY1NTEzODA4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM0NzUyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR50,0,182,268_AL_Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum) is a career naval officer. His life ambition is to command a battleship. A cursory knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent naval history will indicate that this is an ambition unlikely to be realized. Luckily, Pug has a host of other qualifications, like a working knowledge of German and Russian and an uncanny ability to predict geopolitical developments (he alone of everyone in the world predicts the collapse of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, e.g.). He starts out as military liaison in Berlin and ends up a military observer of Lend-Lease efficacy in Moscow.

He has a lot of relatives, and they get into various scrapes. His wife, Rhoda (Polly Bergen), is dumb and shallow but has kept her figure, so that’s going to go badly. His daughter, Madeline (Lisa Eilbacher), is very young and goes into radio; she’s not interesting until later. His elder son, Warren (Ben Murphy), is a naval aviator in Hawai’i; his younger, Byron (Jan-Michael Vincent), is a Columbia grad and naval reservist who finds himself in Siena doing research for a famous author because he can’t settle to anything else.

This introduces the second thread, Aaron Jastrow (John Houseman) and his niece Natalie (Ali MacGraw). Dr. Jastrow is a Jewish author, which will allow the series to follow in detail the declining status of Jews in Europe, because he is stubborn and flighty, which means he refuses to leave when it is simple and then lacks the paperwork and wherewithal when it becomes difficult. Natalie is…an asshole. I had forgotten. She spends all her time keeping men on a leash and then being unpleasant when they venture to be concerned for her welfare. With a better actress in the rôle, it is broadly possible that Natalie would be captivating and impulsive, but…she’s just awful. Also, people keep looking at her askance because she’s so very Jewish-looking, and that is just insultingly silly.

Through Natalie we meet her distant cousin Berel Jastrow (Topol!), a Polish Jew who documents the early activities of the SS Einsatzgruppen. No one believes him, except Leslie Slote (David Dukes), who is a minor functionary in the US State Department and also manages to be in interesting dangerous places at interesting dangerous times. He’s very in love with Natalie and she treats him like dirt. I like Leslie, possibly the best of everyone, because all he ever does is try his best for people and get no credit. Leslie knows Pamela Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant), a young Englishwoman with a journalist father and an airman fiancé who globetrots around after her dad and incontinently falls in love with Pug. We come full circle!

Apparently no expense was spared in this production, and it was filmed on approximately nine thousand locations. This is a plus, but it doesn’t fix the problem: this was made in the early 80s, when subtlety was unknown and costumes only made a bare minimum of effort. In general, women’s dresses and hats are more or less in the style of the 40s, but in hideous fabrics, and no attempt for verisimilitude is made with respect to hairstyles. Men’s clothes, fortunately, escape disaster by retreating to uniform. The large cast, as usual, results in a quality of acting most generously described as uneven. This is not helped by Wouk’s limited talents as a screenwriter, which pale in comparison to his skills as a novelist.

At about twelve hours, it doesn’t save all that much time over reading the book, and is worse. But it is to be admired for its ambitions and its care.

Stray observations:

  • There is something inescapably 70s about Ali MacGraw, and she doesn’t even try to escape here. Also I think she might be a terrible actress. She’s definitely a terrible Natalie Jastrow.
  • The most affecting moment is FDR’s walk across the gangway to the Prince of Wales to accept Churchill’s invitation to church. Ralph Bellamy is generally excellent in the part.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: PGish
Length: 720 minutes
Score: 3/5

MV5BN2YyZjQ0NTEtNzU5MS00NGZkLTg0MTEtYzJmMWY3MWRhZjM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA4NzMyOA@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_There were a lot of deeply irritating things about this movie, so I’ll just get them out of the way at the start. First, it suffered from having the sound mixing set to “human voices are irrelevant,” like all Christopher Nolan films. Second, it had stupid intertitles and explanatory text. If you can’t figure out that the BEF is trapped on the beach in Dunkirk trying to evacuate, from 106 minutes of a film called “Dunkirk,” either the film is very bad or you are very dense. Third, the chronological fiddling was misguided. The film follows the men on the beach for a week, a boat from England for a day, and three Spitfires for an hour–concurrently. This means that time moves at different rates for the various characters and you watch various events from different points of view at different times. It’s confusing and pretentious. At least once it destroys suspense.

Admirably, the film doesn’t do the thing where it has old men in cigars in a panelled room in London arranging things blithely while young men die. It has only the bored tired disgust of the officers on the ground actually trying to fix the situation: an army colonel (James D’Arcy) and a naval commander (Kenneth Branagh). Also admirably it does not indulge in the modern taste for gore, which largely allows it to avoid a certain kind of cynical emotionalism (Saving Private Ryan, I am looking at you). Instead, Branagh flatly informs D’Arcy that a wounded man on a stretcher takes the space of seven standing men. Bleak.

On the beach too it is miserable, and we see the vicissitudes of a soldier’s life there by following Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he flees German guns and then keeps getting not entirely evacuated. On the way he runs into Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Harry Styles, for some reason. It’s wet.

In the air we have Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) in Spitfires, trying to provide air cover for the evacuation. This consists of the best film air combat I have ever seen: it makes you try to crane your neck to see the enemy planes better. They’re both charming and Tom Hardy’s weird mouth is hidden for most of it, which is a plus.

At sea is the Moonstone, a yacht out of Weymouth, crewed by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and another young man, George (Barry Keoghan). They have joined other small vessels from the south coast to help bring their men off. On the way they pull Cillian Murphy out of the water; he is, as usual, dangerously intense. Mr. Dawson is perhaps a bit too unflappable and good, but it’s earned, and Mark Rylance is a superb actor, so you buy it.

The film’s main and significant virtue is its roundedness. Awful things happen–there is an apparent randomness to death that rings and is true–and men do awful things, which is also true. But amazing things happen, and men and women do amazing things, which, thank God, is true as well.

Stray observations:

  • Very few of the characters in the film have names, and the star is the synecdochic “Tommy.” I can’t decide if I love this or hate this.
  • I have a personal antipathy towards Aneurin Barnard’s face, so I didn’t care a jot about his character; I suspect you are supposed to.
  • This gives the impression that the RAF was composed of literally three Spitfires. That’s a little bit true, of course, but not quite.
  • It is a shockingly dark-haired and brown-eyed BEF. And I know we assume that blonds in films are Nazis, but couldn’t we have had a ginger or two? There were some Scottish accents flying around. (Literally: Collins, one of the pilots, is Scottish. And blond, in fairness. As is Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Glynn-Carney. But that’s RAF, Royal Navy, and civilian respectively. No blonds in the army at all.)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13, which is a relief
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 4/5

This is, naturally, based on the 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning Herman Wouk novel. It is worse than the book–it lacks a lot of its humanity and complication, but that’s not surprising, as the book is very long and the movie is not.

MV5BMTQ4ODg4NzA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDcwODI5MjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_It is late in World War II, and the USS Caine is a modified destroyer doing minesweeper duty in the Pacific. Newly assigned to the Caine is the young preppy ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis). He left behind in New York a cabaret-singer girlfriend, May Wynn (May Wynn), and an over-bearing mother (Katherine Warren). He’s tall and blank-faced and not nearly as interesting or intelligent as his character in the books. Also on the Caine are the executive officer, Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), and the communications officer, Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray), who is working on a novel in his spare time. Life aboard ship is chaotic and sloppy, and many of the officers are pleased when they get a new captain, Philip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), who is a neurotic martinet.

But it turns out that tucking in shirt-tails and insisting on shaving and going slightly mad about a disappearing quart of frozen strawberries does not actually constitute being a good commanding officer, and the officers start increasingly to resent Queeg. This culminates when Maryk relieves Queeg of his command in the middle of the typhoon, and the rest of the film is dedicated to the court martial for mutiny. Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer) defends Maryk, because in the fifties and sixties every sort of moderately swarthy person was apparently interchangeable.

In the book I was irritated by Willie’s romance with May, and what a doofus he was about it, because I thought it detracted from the human drama of the Caine and the trial. But in the film she’s too vestigial to add anything, and it makes Willie disappointingly one-dimensional. The main problem, however, is (and it pains me to say it) Bogey. In the book, you’re drawn in to the resentment against Queeg, but the choice of Bogey rather precludes that. You’re predisposed to like him, or, at the worst, pity him. It makes it difficult to be on Keefer’s side, and thus the emotional clout of the dénouement is largely lost.

Stray observations:

  • The film is dedicated to the US Navy, which I guess is nice.
  • Issues of class and ethnicity–particularly Judaism–are much more deftly handled in the book, and it’s disappointing not to see them addressed here.

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Rating: PG
Length: 124 minutes
Score: 3/5

I’m going to be unfair to this movie, because I’ve read the novel by Irène Némirovsky, which is brilliant. Suite Française was written during the war, before Némirovsky was murdered by the Nazis, and, though unfinished, it has a much broader and clearer vision of humanity than the film does. It follows, among others, a middle-class family whose son is away at the fighting as they flee Paris, an aging bon-vivant who sticks to his champagne amid the German bombs, an absolutely awful matron of late middle age who values her silver more than people, and a young married lady in the country in whose house an officer of the Wehrmacht is billeted.

MV5BMTczMjg3MzQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDYyNzY4NDE@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_The movie, naturally, concentrates on the last grouping, because there’s the most smooching in it. Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) is unhappily married; luckily her husband is a POW, but unluckily her mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) is around to be unpleasant to her. When the Germans invade, Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) is put up in their house. He is polite, has a nice dog, and can play the piano. Lucile lacks a personality entirely.

Meanwhile, the mayor, Viscount Montmort (Lambert Wilson) and his wife (Harriet Walter) are trying to accommodate themselves to reality; a horrible German officer (Tom Schilling) is billeted on a farm belonging to the Labaries (Sam Riley and Ruth Wilson), which ends about as well as you’d think; a Jewish woman (Alexandra Maria Lara) and her daughter are…there.

This movie is stupid and melodramatic. You don’t need to add pathos to the Nazi invasion of France, or insulting inanities to Némirovsky’s novel. I suppose that, once one has hired the extremely handsome Mr. Schoenaerts, one feels he ought to be on screen, but every other story in the novel is more interesting than Lucile’s and Bruno’s, and less well-trodden.

Director: Saul Dibb
Rating: around PG-13
Length: 107 minutes
Score: 2/5

MV5BYWFlY2E3ODQtZWNiNi00ZGU4LTkzNWEtZTQ2ZTViMWRhYjIzL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_We begin in a boy’s youth, as his grandfather teaches him to shoot wolves. He hesitates, and the wolf disembowels their horse.

We then launch in medias res, as Soviet recruits are ferried across the Volga to fight the Nazis in what you can already say is the ruins of Stalingrad. Vassily Zaitsev (Jude Law) is among them. He is the boy of the earlier incident, but he is not one of the lucky few to be given a rifle before being sent into the hell between the German guns and those that ensure he will not retreat. Vassily starts out with a convincing expression of terrified panic on his face, but somehow Mr. Law manages to escalate as the film goes on.

After that first abortive offensive, Vassily is avoiding the Nazi mopping-up by hiding in a fountain full of corpses. There he is joined by the young political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), whose car has just blown up, whose glasses are broken, whose competence with a gun is merely nominal, and who is generally having a really bad case of the Mondays. He fumbles with a rifle he finds until Vassily takes it from him and rapidly kills every Nazi he can see. Danilov, in true Soviet style, makes Vassily into a Hero of the Motherland, with a new fancy sniper rifle, fanmail, and slightly exaggerated rustic bona fides. They become fast friends, but Danilov also sells the heroism to a young(ish) Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins).

Two complications emerge. The first is a beautiful woman, Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz), who can both read German and shoot, and thus bounces back and forth awkwardly between Danilov’s staff and Vassily’s band of miracle-workers. The second is a Nazi sniper, a Major König (Ed Harris), who has come all the way from Berlin to kill Vassily.

It doesn’t seem as though many saw this film, perhaps because in early 2001 it was still fashionable to imagine that we had solved the problem of war. It was particularly unpalatable at the time to consider a war in which neither side was hunky freedom-loving good guys. To be sure, Enemy at the Gates never for a moment questions that the Nazis must be stopped, but it also pulls no punches about the miseries of Soviet life–the wolf has already taken everything you love, the film tells you, but you must continue to fight.

Overlooking this movie, however, was a collective failure in judgement, because it’s rather good. It is affecting without being emotionally manipulative, unlike the vast majority of WWII movies. Everyone, particularly Hoskins and Harris, is well cast; it is difficult to believe that Ed Harris has only played a Nazi officer in one other film, as far as I can tell. You want to like Fiennes, but political officers are necessarily squirrelly. Weisz and Law are impossibly beautiful, and impossibly young, but they are carefully encrusted in dirt, so it isn’t jarring. They joke adorably about how Vassily’s crisp new uniform will probably be taken back directly after a photo-op.

Heads up, though, an entirely plausible number of people die.

Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Rating: R
Length: 131 minutes
Score: 4/5

So, I’m pretty sure that the impetus behind this film was that Tom Cruise saw a photo of Claus von Stauffenberg and thought, “I am doing humanity a disservice if I do not make a film about this man.” Also maybe felt that his résumé was lacking a movie where he got to thwart Nazis. Of course, he doesn’t actually get to thwart any Nazis. The Valkyrie plot failed, and nobody got to kill Hitler but Hitler, pace Quentin Tarantino.

mv5bmtg3njc2odeyn15bml5banbnxkftztcwntawmzc3na-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Valkyrie is however a pretty good movie.  While Cruise as Stauffenberg gets to do a lot of jaw-jutting moralizing, the logistical problems–not to mention those of spinelessness–are well handled by everyone else.  Eddie Izzard (Fellgiebel) and Tom Wilkinson (Fromm) in particular waver and falter and smoke nervously in very convincing ways. Tom Hollander (Brandt) is as usual excellent in an as usual ungrateful part.

The film’s main strengths are the small things, though. A switchboard operator has to decide whether to put through the communiqué from the Wolf’s Lair or from the coup leaders, and his face eloquently says how far this is above his pay grade. Thomas Kretschmann, handsome as always and filled with ennui as the commander of a home guard division, likewise is never sure whether it’s a drill or whether the sky is falling and he should arrest Goebbels. Stauffenberg’s a.d.c. (Jamie Parker) is welcomed into the office with an offer of risky involvement in high treason and shrugs a yes. You actually watch the movements of the explosive-laden briefcase with some trepidation.

It’s not subtle. Goebbels (Harvey Friedman) and Goering (Gerhard Haase-Hindenberg) are sneering, evil cartoons. Hitler himself (David Bamber) is insufficiently mad for July of 1944, but still just awful. The ominous mass of greatcoats and jackboots hangs over the film. On the other side, Stauffenberg loves his wife, his children, and Jesus. The Stauffenberg children are relentlessly blond and play soldiers to the accompaniment of a phonograph playing Wagner and Tom Cruise’s agonized eyes. When the members of the plot are all rounded up and shot (spoiler alert!), Terence Stamp as Ludwig Beck gloriously observes, on learning that he is to be spared, that he’d like a pistol. For personal reasons.

And just in case you were wondering if it’s as hell-for-leather awesome as Tom Cruise movies usually are: he is blown up not once but twice within the first six minutes and then has to wear an eyepatch.

Director: Bryan Singer
Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes
Score: 4/5

If you want to watch this for Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s great in it, but be warned: to play Christopher Tietjens properly, he abandons almost all of his vanity and makes his face as unattractive as he is able, and attempts to make his body appear hulking and clumsy.

Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End, as is usual with Ford Madox Ford, has an unbelievably acute sense of how humanity operates, and is not hopeful about it. People cheat, and then manage to be worse to each other when they are not cheating. Totally inaccurate gossip ruins lives because of malice and laziness, not necessarily in that order. And despite the monumental efforts of many, the Great War was unfairly, desperately, but also bureaucratically, horrible. Somehow, Tom Stoppard’s screenplay manages to capture almost all of the novels’ uncomfortable perspicacity without stumbling into clumsy exposition. But that is perhaps unsurprising, because Tom Stoppard is a genius.

Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch) holds a minor but important position in the Department of Imperial Statistics. He is a large blond man from Yorkshire, scrupulously, even maddeningly exact, and unwisely generous. His wife, Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), is a perfect portrait of the type of woman who can get away with everything from general obnoxiousness up because she is so exceedingly lovely. She runs away with a poor sap called Potty Perowne (Tom Mison, with a fussy mustache). Christopher always thinks ahead and is unfailingly decent to and about her; that, in combination with her beauty, means that everyone thinks that she is a saint. The same people immediately believe that Christopher has any number of mistresses, including a young suffragist called Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens).

He of course does not. He would like to, but he is too much of the Tory, and nothing at all of the hypocrite. Instead, he does his job, lends money to his friend McMaster (Stephen Graham), helps everyone he can, and finally becomes a reluctant but capable officer. He sounds perfect, perhaps, but there is an excessive rigidity about him that is troubling–in Ford’s perfect description, he is the type of Tory who would never lift a finger except to say “I told you so.”

The production is near-perfect. Time passes in the shapes of skirts and hats; Morris wallpapers cede to muddy trenches; a glitzy party in what I believe is Lord Leighton’s house gives way to a sad billet near the Front. One might find the pacing slightly slow, but it is in the service of actual drama rather than the manufactured kind. As with Brideshead Revisited, a feature film of this would be heavy-handed and dreadful.

Cumberbatch gamely wears a uniform two sizes too large and screws up his face so that it is not ludicrous when Miss Wannop tells him he is not so terribly ugly after all. Hall’s glorious halo of hair makes her believable as the spiteful femme fatale who is never so recognized. Graham and Anne-Marie Duff (as his wife), are by turns arrogantly social-climbing and cringingly pusillanimous. Not grateful parts, but well-acted. The rest of the large cast also performs admirably; a few are in parts that, even in the novel, are slightly two-dimensional to throw the three main figures into sharper relief.

It’s terrific.

Stray observations:

  • Every single thing Rebecca Hall wears is beautiful.
  • Rufus Sewell is perfectly cast as the gorgeous but deranged and oversensual Fr. Duchemin.
  • Denis Lawson has a small part!

Director: Susanna White
Rating: equivalent to TV-MA, I’d definitely say
Length: 287 minutes
Score: 5/5

Tcheky Karyo makes every movie about nine thousand percent better, and this is no exception. Between Karyo and Jason Isaacs chewing scenery, you are almost able to forget about Mel Gibson’s painful earnestness.

Look, you definitely think this movie is stupid and refried Braveheart. You are not wrong. But this movie is also tremendous, because somehow all the emotional beats hit, and also America is awesome.

Which is what it comes down to. The plot is silly, and the romances are unremarkable, and the Brits are ludicrously cartoonish, and Donal Logue recovering from his terminal racism is almost insulting, but…I cry every time Susan speaks to Benjamin, and I love America.

Stray observations:

  • Just…shoot him again, Gabriel. Don’t be dumb.
  • Can someone just make a supercut of all of Jean Villeneuve’s sick burns and mic drops? “I want accuracy and precision!” “If I die, I will die well dressed.”
  • Chris Cooper doesn’t lack for knives in the gut either.

Director: Roland Emmerich
Rating: PG-13
Length: 165 minutes
Score: 1,000,000/5

I keep oscillating between 1/5 and 2/5 for a score for this movie, because while it wasn’t any good at all, it also wasn’t actively bad, so 1/5 seems mean, but it was also really not any good. And probably other people aren’t quite as keen on James D’Arcy looking tense in a naval uniform, so that doesn’t get a free point.

In WWII, radar happened, and it is the subject of many excellent movies and even better quips (see, for instance, the charming exchange from Battle of Britain: “So I tell the cabinet that you’re trusting in radar and praying to God, is that right?” “More accurately the other way ’round. Trusting in God and praying for radar.”). And, in that grand tradition, Age of Heroes is about commandos sent to Norway to take out a German radar installation, I’m pretty sure.

Danny Dyer saves some of his men in the retreat towards Dunkirk, but then is sent to prison for desertion because of a misunderstanding or simple nastiness on the part of a superior officer. Sean Bean ignores the pleas of his pregnant wife to lead a commando unit (helpfully made up of men from Danny Dyer’s military jail and also some random Scandinavian-born American, which is where Askel Hennie comes in).  John Dagleish has to go with the commandos to Norway as the radar expert, but is largely useless for anything else. Our old friend and the only character whose name I learned, and that only because I already knew it, Ian Fleming (Mr. D’Arcy), is stressed out in the cabinet war rooms.

So they go to Norway and it’s cold and John Dagleish is useless and their contact has maybe gone dark or is maybe dead or is definitely a girl. Nazis are very unpleasant, to a point that seems cartoonish but is probably accurate. At this point the movie loses shape entirely, but not out of attempts at realism, just out of carelessness. All the set-up–explaining radar, commandos, intelligence services, geography–falls by the wayside in a welter of bad dialogue and worse pacing. Danny Dyer is, I think, meant to be conflicted and confused, but he comes off as dense and ineffectual. Which is not great, for a titular hero.

Commandos are fascinating, and I daresay a good film treatment of Fleming’s war service could exist and perhaps already does, but this isn’t it. (Neither is Any Human Heart, in which he figures as a minor character but which I couldn’t even finish watching, it was so dire.) Accounts of the early part of the war are usually depressing–Battle of Britain ends with a collective, near-despairing shrug–but this one is also just bad.

Oh, and, of course Sean Bean dies.

Director: Adrian Vitoria
Rating: NR
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 1/5

Do you remember the strange several years when everyone was convinced that Russell Crowe was both good-looking and a good actor? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary on both fronts? We gave this man an Academy Award!

Just…wow.

Anyway, Master and Commander is probably my favorite Russell Crowe movie, and that’s mostly in spite of him, and in spite of its…not really being all that good. When I saw it the first time, I hadn’t read any of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I rather liked it. Now I have read fourteen of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I like it no less.  This movie follows the plot of no single O’Brian novel, neither the one called Master and Commander nor the one called The Far Side of the World. Nor of any other. Which is fine, really; those novels succeed better at atmosphere than at plot. I have heard on good authority that this is a fairly verisimilitudinous reflection of naval life. The film also aims for atmosphere, sketching your favorite characters from the books in a pastiche of more or less plausible events that take place near the Galapagos and involve fighting the French navy.

Jack Aubrey (Crowe), the titular master and commander, is blond, sanguine, and incipiently fat. He’s smirkingly terrible and his accent is worse. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is as unattractive as they can make him as the doctor and naturalist who spends most of his time kvetching that a warship is not his private exploratory vessel. He has no Irish accent and is not a spy, so devotés of the books may resent it; I enjoy that he can walk in a straight line and probably add. James D’Arcy plays the good-looking lieutenant Tom Pullings, and I love him. That’s all Tom Pullings ever does–be good-looking and lieutenant as well as he bloody can. Billy Boyd is awful as the boatswain Bonden, but they don’t give Bonden a damn thing to do, so that’s the real problem.

Max Pirkis is an amalgam of various tiny midshipmen, including one named Reade and one named Blakeney, and he, as also playing Octavian in HBO’s Rome, is a revelatory, heartbreaking gem. Early on he loses an arm, and Aubrey gives him a biography of Lord Nelson, and I cry. So much. Later on, he squeakingly collects beetles for Maturin, still later he squeakingly helps decide the course of a battle with the French vessel Acheron. He’s wonderful.

This film’s chief failure is that it captures neither the unremitting navy-ness of the books nor the rather charming blink-and-you-missed-it humor. In addition it’s scattershot, trying to cobble together one full plot from a dozen loosely connected episodes. But, if you like movies about old boats and aren’t terrifically particular, you’ll love this. If not, you’ll be annoyed by the winking in-jokes, the borderline incoherence, and Russell Crowe.

Stray observations:

  • This film makes heavy, heavy use of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and, while I deeply love that piece of music in all its forms, the anachronism makes me insane.
  • I really wish there had been more of these movies, as it clearly looked like they were planned, and I would eat them up like candy. However, I also see why there weren’t more–the movie strikes a bad balance between pleasing lovers of the books and pleasing neophytes, and ends up pleasing no-one. Also it made $50 million less than it cost.

Director: Peter Weir
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 4/5