Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Review

by Shannon Patrick Sullivan (shannon AT morgan DOT ucs DOT mun DOT ca)
November 24th, 2003

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) / *** 1/2
Directed by Peter Weir. Screenplay by Weir and John Collee, from the novels by Patrick O'Brian. Starring Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy. Running time: 138 minutes. Rated AA for violent scenes by the MFCB. Reviewed on November 21st, 2003.

By SHANNON PATRICK SULLIVAN

Synopsis: During the Napoleonic Wars, the HMS Surprise, captained by "Lucky" Jack Aubrey (Crowe), is charged by the British navy with the task of preventing a powerful French warship from entering Pacific waters. Aubrey is determined to stop the French vessel at all costs, bringing him into conflict with his friend, ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin (Bettany), who is devoted to ensuring that the Surprise's crew survive to see home again.

Review: It is rare to encounter an adventure movie which manages to work on as many levels as "Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World". And I'm not just talking about the successes of the various individuals involved -- although, certainly, the performances are very good (especially Crowe and Bettany in their roles as firm friends yet frequent ideological opponents), Weir's direction of the chaotic maritime sequences is excellent, and the picture as a whole benefits from a handsome and brave look which nonetheless avoids seeming overly romantic. No, the true accomplishment here is Weir and Collee's script. It works on a broad scale, giving the viewers an idea of the state of affairs at the time of the Napoleonic Wars -- offering insight not just into politics but also science and sociology. And it works, of course, on the smaller scale of one boat against another, telling a tale of high seas conflict which is straightforward but no less enjoyable as a result of that. But best of all, "Master And Commander" pays attention to its characters, weaving together several different subplots to really give the impression that the crew of the Surprise are living, breathing people and not just a laundry list of ranks and duties. Is it any wonder, then, that it becomes so easy for the audience to immerse itself in a world two centuries removed?
Copyright 2003 Shannon Patrick Sullivan.
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