Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Master And Commander
"Has the courage of its convictions."

HMS Bounty stopped off at Hawai for some quality R&R. Capt Bligh's budding mutineers had a fair old time with the local lasses.

There is nothing like that here.

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Peter Weir's epic of life in the British navy, during Nelson's watch, is bravely devoid of female company. The crew's only break from the cramped quarters of HMS Surprise (28 guns, 197 souls) is a couple of days on the Galapagos Islands, with giant tortoises and odd looking lizards.

Based on Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels - there are 20 altogether - the film has the courage of its convictions. Scrupulous research and a fanatical concern for historical accuracy is a demonstration of Weir's seriousness. He ensures that special effects are hidden, so that the sensation of being battered by a typhoon, becalmed in swealtering heat, or fighting a hand-to-hand battle on the deck of a ship, already blasted by heavy guns, is absolutely authentic.

Without characters, or a half decent storyline, this might have looked like a reconstructed docudrama, wonderfully done, do doubt, but dry of content. With a crew this size, it's no easy matter to give the supporting cast enough screentime to break free from stereotype. They succeed magnificently, because every effort has been made to allow them the privilege of being individuals from the start.

In this movie, there isn't such a thing as cannon fodder.

Capt Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) has been given orders to intercept the French privateer, Acheron, off the coast of Brazil, in the spring of 1805, and either sink her, or take her as a prize. The Acheron is a far superior vessel, faster, with greater firepower and twice as many men. This does not deter "Lucky" Jack; it only spurs him on.

His friend, the naturalist and ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is the voice of reason. After a crippling encounter with the enemy, saved only by sea mist, giving The Surprise an opportunity to slip away to repair her damage and bury the dead, Aubrey's obsession with The Acheron takes on Moby Dick proportions and, however hard he tries, Maturin cannot deter the captain from what seems like a suicidal mission.

Crowe is a most unusual actor. Just when you think you have nailed him as an action hero (Gladiator), or deranged genius (A Beautiful Mind), he changes again. He lives and breathes "Lucky" Jack, who resembles none of his previous roles. As well as mastering the accent, he digs deep into the psyche of a man born to lead, while hinting at a softer vulneralbility that only Maturin can reach. The performance powers the engine of the film, while Bettany and the others respond with admirable conviction.

The script by Weir and Scots doctor John Collee is intelligent and unsentimental. This is the story of good men, fighting a bloody battle, on raging seas, for the glory of England, with pride in their hearts.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2003
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Life at sea on a fighting ship of the Royal Navy in South American waters at the time of Nelson.
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Scott Macdonald ****1/2

Director: Peter Weir

Writer: Peter Weir, John Collee, based on the novels by Patrick O'Brian

Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D'Arcy, Lee Ingleby, George Innes, Mark Lewis Jones, Chris Larkin, Richard McCabe, Robert Pugh, David Trelfall, Max Pirkis, Edward Woodall, Ian Mercer, Max Benitz

Year: 2003

Runtime: 138 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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