I have had several discussions with friends about this film, none of whom seem to be able to agree on whether this is the greatest film of the year, or a collection of boring anecdotes about Lord Nelson to accompany the slowest chase film ever made. I would personally fall somewhere between these two perspectives, but I can see why Master and Commander polarises opinions - it is a very unusual film.
Several reviewers have already outlined the plot of this film in much greater detail than I intend to - a British boat, outgunned by a larger French vessel, is initially defeated and then hunts for the opportunity to gain revenge for king and country. However, the interest in the film is in the details - the relations of the seamen to their captain, the doctor as confidant and even mentor to Crowe. The action is sparse, but dramatic, and there are some memorable performances, particularly from some of the younger members of the cast.
I said that this film was unusual, because despite the large budget and Hollywood backing, I dont think I have ever seen a film like this one. The action is almost a sideshow to the personal relationships that develop, and even plays second fiddle at times to the doctor's love of zoology. The dialogue is unashamedly corny at times (I'm thinking of the Nelson anecdote again) but somehow it seems forgiveable because it is realistic at the same time - what else would you talk about with a man who had served under Nelson?
Overall, the story left me with the same feeling that I have when I have read a good book, rather than watched a Hollywood blockbuster. The pace is measured, even slow at times. It is the kind of film I would recommend to anyone who hasn't seen it, but again I could fully understand why some people would hate it. I will be buying this film, largely on the grounds that I suspect it is a film which will improve with subsequent viewings. And I may even read the book as well.