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

PG-13 138 minutes

Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Patrick O\'Brian, Peter Weir, & John Collee

 · Russell Crowe
 · Paul Bettany
 · James D\'Arcy
 · Edward Woodall
 · & Chris Larkin

Review by Arcturus

Nautical tales seem to be making a come back in Hollywood. From the highly entertaining swashbuckling Pirates Of The Carribbean to Peter Weir's Master And Commander, we seem to be seeing a Renaissance in the sea faring epics of old. And long may this continue! Films such as Das Boot, and Mutiny On The Bounty have been absolute classics of mine for some time, and I'm glad the genre is making a revival. If all future naval films are as well crafted and planned as Pirates and Master and Commander, we should look forward to a well resurrected genre!




Master and Commander gets all its facts right; the crewmen are convincing and evoke a keen sense of the historical Napoleonic period in which it is set. Russell Crowe is competent in his role as Captain Aubrey, yet seems out acted at every twist and turn by the highly successful Paul Bettany as the ship's surgeon. Bettany is highly proficient in the role, adding understated dignity and compassion to life onboard ship. His subsequent connection with the young Lieutenant onboard ship is particularly well done. In terms of actual historical accuracy, Master and Commander defies criticism--the ship is perfect, and the actions of the crew and officers seem appropriate to the historical period.

Master and Commander also handles matters of science and conflict particularly well: Aubrey epitomizes "national pride and honour", willing to risk all for the glory and protection of his country. Bettany on the other hand represents the goals of science and discovery, willing Aubrey to use his brains rather than his brawn on occasions to win the day.




The cinematography in this film is absolutely breathtaking. From the opening scene, where the viewer is propelled into a vivid, bloody, action packed battle scene, to the vast panoramic sweeps of the camera around the ship at sail, everything here is spot on. The film's pacing sags slightly in the middle sections of the film, where we sit waiting for the weather to turn and give favorable winds, yet perhaps this anxious feeling for more movement from the audience is a conscious decision by the director to mimic the crew's own restlessness. I can only speak for myself but I was visibly moved by the losses of the crew onboard the ship. The suicide scene for example, was particularly well managed.

The action scenes are superbly handled, especially the finale, where we are plunged straight into the thick and fray of vicious hand to hand fighting.

There were spans of awkward silences which grated on my nerves, however, which may also annoy some filmgoers. At times it seemed to lapse into an almost documentary-like experience, and although the Galapagos Island scenes were beautifully shot and rendered, they did drag on a little.



Master and Commander is perfectly crafted--the camera work is exquisite, the cast convincing. At times the pace sags, and it does get a little boring in areas, but this is more than made up for by the spectacular battle scenes. All in all, I feel that Bettany carries this film away with his understated performance as Doctor Maturin. Bettany's performance alone renders this film a must see!

529 Words Published: 10 December 2003

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