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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World  (2003)


Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Ian Mercer
Peter Weir

Rating: PG-13

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: 11.14.03

Review Posted: 11.21.03

Spoilers: None


By Rachel Sexton


Two Australian Talents Create an Exceptional Epic


Australian director Peter Weir has established himself as one of the most gifted directors working today and his credits are impressive. For one, he wrote and directed one of the best romantic comedies, Green Card. With his new film, Weir teams with one of the best actors working today, Russell Crowe, to create one of the best films of the year. Despite being as long as its title, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a heroic rousing epic that always engages with exciting action and excellent performances.


Based on Patrick O’Brien’s book series, Master and Commander details one voyage of Captain Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his crew aboard the Surprise. Their orders are to capture the French Archeron. The film begins with a fog-bound battle, which the Archeron wins, and never lets up as Aubrey staunchly pursues the ship to the Galapagos Islands. There are two more encounters with the ship, the last being the final battle which the crew of the Surprise meticulously plans and prepares for. You’d have to be a simpleton to think they’d lose again.


Weir is a director who has never been flamboyant but he’s slowly been broadening his stylistic attempts and he seems to instinctively know when and how to use them. This is evident in Master and Commander from the beginning, as the camera follows a lone crew member as he makes his rounds on the Surprise at night. The audience is firmly placed in the atmosphere of an early-nineteenth century war ship, the crew sleeping in hammocks and the constant sound of the water and creaking wood. Lighting and use of shadow are effective in this scene as well.


The narrative of the film focuses the plot points around the interactions between the Surprise and the Acheron. The audience is never allowed to forget that Aubrey’s orders are to gain control of that ship. One touch in the script that is successful is the way some of the crew of the Surprise equate the Acheron to a “phantom” and indeed, this seems to fit as the first sight of her is blazing red haze through fog as she fires at the Surprise, then seems to appear as if from nowhere. This imagery is connected to the subplot of an officer on the Surprise who is considered cursed by some of the crew.


The dialogue is good and the nautical jargon used is kept to a minimum it seems. The battle scenes are realistic and relentless. The sound is amazing and not just in the action sequences. There are periodic scenes where Aubrey and his close friend, the ship’s doctor (Paul Bettany), play the violin and cello, and the music segues into the soundtrack.


The location of the Galapagos is used effectively, not just in visuals but in the script as well. One of the younger officers (this kid literally looks 10 years old) helps the doctor investigate the new wildlife on the islands. He’s also a good fighter, though, and he says he’ll become a “fighting naturalist” like the doctor. These investigations also help the Surprise in its final surprise attack.


As for the performances, only Crowe could have played Aubrey like this. He is a natural leader, heroic, powerful and seasoned. Plus, Crowe should be made to wear his hair like this all the time. Of the support, Bettany has the biggest role and is amazing, just as good dramatically as he is was comically in A Knight’s Tale. There is one scene where he operates on himself. It’s unbelievable. Max Pirkis as Blakeney is awesome, too, taking command of one part of the operation in the final battle like a pro.


Excellent performances and rousing action leave audiences wanting more Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Australians Weir and Crowe accomplish the task of bringing the sea-faring yarn to screens like true heroes.


Rating: êêêê  (out of 5)


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