You say you suffered through the dismal Matrix:Revolutions and are looking for a real adventure film that has two braincells to rub together? Well, your ship has come in, mate, in the form ofMaster And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, which is an intelligent, intense adventure epic that hooks theviewer right from the beginning and doesn’t let go for a second duringits 139-minute running time.
Based on author Patrick O’Brian’s popular book series,Master And Commander is set during the Napoleonic Wars. The two main characters are Captain”Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), renowned as a fighting captain in theBritish Navy and Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), the ship’s doctor and closefriend of Aubrey (think 18th Century Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy).
As the film opens, their ship, the H.M.S. Surprise, issuddenly attacked by the French, who are in possession of a vastly superiorship that was built in America. With the Surprise badly damaged and much ofits crew injured, Aubrey is torn between duty and friendship as he pursues ahigh-stakes chase across two oceans, to intercept and capture his foe.
From the coast of Brazil to the storm-tossed waters ofCape Horn, south through ice and snow, to – you got it – the far side of theworld, to the remote shores of The Galapagos Islands, it’s a mission thatcan make Aubrey’s reputation – or destroy him and his crew.
Peter Weir, for whom this film is his firstdirectorial effort in five years (his last being the brilliant TrumanShow), goes to great lengths to bring realism and authenticity to thefilm’s battle scenes and create a rich, encapsulating atmosphere,breathtakingly photographed by Russell Boyd. By capturing all the horror,tedium and tension of life on the open seas during wartime, Weir makes youfeel as if you are right there alongside Lucky Jack and crew as they sailthe Southern Seas in pursuit of its enemy.
The screenplay’s main plotline, compiled from two of O’Brian’s novels by Weir and JohnCollee, is fairly straightforward: good guys pursue bad guys on the high seas. But this doesn’t meanthat the characters, main and supporting, and the various sub-plots are simple aswell. The characters are interesting and three-dimensional (credit shouldalso be given to the fine ensemble of actors playing them), while their dialogueis neither pretentious nor silly.
Crowe, who is superb as the Captain, combines elementsfrom several of his previous roles for Aubrey: the confidence of Maximusfrom Gladiator, the determination and occasional, unexpectedcompassion of Bud White from L.A. Confidential, the stubbornness andsense of responsibility of Dr. Wigand from The Insider and thecalculating intelligence of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, making fora smart portrayal of an old-fashioned cinema hero worth following andcheering for.
Bettany, Crowe’s co-star in A Beautiful Mind,is equally as impressive as the ship’s doctor. Maturin proves to be equallyas vital to the ship’s success as the captain, arguing Aubrey’s actions onmany an occasion.
Comparing Aubrey and Maturin to Kirk and McCoy is hardly an insult to theperformances of Crowe and Bettany. The interplay between Kirk and McCoy wasalways my favorite aspect of the Star Trek TV and film series, and theinterplay between Crowe and Bettany is definitely a highlight of thisfilm. Bettany gives a performance that stands proudly alongside the film’sstar, and is worthy of an Oscar nomination.
It’s been a while since an action / adventure film thatwasn’t set in Middle Earth has had me sitting on the edge of my seat rightfrom the start. Master And Commander did. When it wasn’t knocking meout with its spectacular battle scenes, it kept me rivetted with its eye todetail, well-defined characters, smart dialogue and excellent cast.
Don’t wait for the film to come out on DVD. Seek the film out on the largestscreen possible then sit back and enjoy.