Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Review

by Steve Rhodes (Steve DOT Rhodes AT InternetReviews DOT com)
November 11th, 2003

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): *** 1/2

In MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD, by director Peter Weir (THE TRUMAN SHOW), it's time to get all dressed up. Time for the gentlemen -- there are no ladies present -- to put on their fancy top hats and tails. No, it's not party time; it's battle time, as a British frigate takes on a French one in 1805 when Napoleon ruled the European continent but not the high seas. It's time for you to sit back in your seat and get treated to what might be called a thinking man's popcorn movie. A film too good to open in the summer time, it is coming to theaters early this holiday season for your viewing enjoyment.
So when was the last time you saw a rip-roaring naval drama, full of deafening cannon fire, complex naval strategy and good old fashioned swashbuckling fun? Please do not insult my intelligence by answering, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, which was a cute comedy, not a drama. MASTER AND COMMANDER has plenty of humor in it, as in its weevil race, but it is fundamentally a realistic depiction of what it was like to sail aboard a warship off the coast of Brazil during a time of war.

The epic story, which is as much the star of the movie as Russell Crowe in his superb performance as Capt. Jack Aubrey, concerns a naval cat-and-mouse battle between two ships: the older, smaller and technologically inferior British ship, the HMS Surprise, under Capt. Aubrey's command and a vastly stronger and larger French vessel under an unnamed captain. Crowe is offered numerous opportunities to grandstand and rejects them all, delivering one of his most heartfelt pieces of work. MASTER AND COMMANDER again reminds us of what a brilliant actor he is.

Even more than the effects of powerful cannons blowing men and masts to bits, the film's most memorable sequences and the ones most likely to make you squirm are the surgery scenes. Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany, who played opposite Crowe in A BEAUTIFUL MIND) attends to the operations with the crude instruments and limited medications of that era. Thankfully, the director knows the best times to cut away or this PG-13 rated film might be too much to bear, as a young lad's arm is sawed off and as brain surgery is performed on a senior sailor.

The script by Peter Weir and John Collee, based on the novels by Patrick O'Brian, is full of beautifully written prose. An especially fine example of this comes in a simple but profound funeral led by Capt. Aubrey. "Simple truth is that not all of us have become the man we once thought we might be," he says of one of his fallen comrades. The thrilling movie itself becomes much more than you probably expect. The only nagging question I had on leaving the theater was how in the world they keep on those top hats in blowing rain with thirty-foot swells?

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD runs a fast 2:08. The film is rated PG-13 for "intense battle sequences, related images, and brief language" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

The film opens nationwide in the United States on Friday, November 14, 2003. In the Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the AMC theaters, the Century theaters and the Camera Cinemas.
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