MASTER & COMMANDER:
THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD
Peter Weir, Director


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November 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

MASTER & COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD, based on Patrick O'Brian's historical maritime series, is an amazing high-seas adventure. Russell Crowe (GLADIATOR, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) and Paul Bettany (A KNIGHT'S TALE, A BEAUTIFUL MIND) bring the fascinating characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin to life. With very little introduction filmgoers are thrown into the action and forced to find our way through rapid fire naval jargon, cannon blasts and splintering wood.

Captain "Lucky Jack" Aubrey (Russell Crowe), the charismatic commander of the HMS Surprise, has orders to intercept a French frigate, the Acheron, and "sink her, burn her, or take her as prize." But the Acheron launches a sneak attack on the Surprise instead, and their first sea battle ends with the HMS Surprise retreating into the fog, seriously in need of repairs.

In the aftermath of their first battle, the human story of the officers and crew begins to be told. Captain Jack Aubrey, a salty British Navy officer, is a fair-minded yet formidable leader who's responsible for a crew of very young men and boys like young Lord Blakeney (Max Pirkis), who loses his arm following the battle. As the midshipman recuperates Captain Jack brings the boy a book to read about the famous naval hero Lord Nelson, who also lost an arm in battle.

The ship surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), is Aubrey's confidant and antagonist on their difficult voyage. The bookish Maturin, a naturalist who sketches bugs and documents new, rare species on the Galapagos Islands, isn't afraid to stand up to the Captain. After a heated argument, Aubrey tells the doctor, "Name a shrub after me, something prickly and hard to eradicate." And to entertain themselves between sea battles and arguments they play duets, with Maturin on the cello and Aubrey on the violin.

Suffering through clashes with the crew, harsh weather, high seas, and violent, bloody battles, Lucky Jack plays a dangerous cat and mouse game around the far side of the world to outwit the Acheron.

MASTER & COMMANDER is an adventure with great action scenes and fascinating characters. The careful research and attention to detail shines through in a spectacularly authentic sea-going film. You can't help but be impressed with the cinematography (Russell Boyd) and action scenes. Adapted by director Peter Weir (WITNESS, THE TRUMAN SHOW) and co-screenwriter John Collee, the film is said to closely follow Patrick O'Brian's novels. However, this isn't another BRAVEHEART or THE PATRIOT because there isn't enough of a story here. The plot wasn't compelling enough to make it a true epic, in my opinion. This is an intelligent movie, with complicated characters and outstanding performances, worthy of Oscar nominations.

 

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