Film Reviews

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD

By • Nov 14th, 2003 •

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20th Century Fox and Miramax Films and Universal Pictures present a Samuel Goldwyn Films production

I have not read any of the books comprising Patrick O’Brian’s 20-novel series on the 19th-century British navy. This did not diminish my appreciating the excellent rendering director Peter Weir has created from the source material. M&C, which combines the first and tenth novels, will not disappoint O’Brian’s fans.

Yes, the seafaring jargon is intricate but the plot is rather direct. Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) commands the HMS Surprise during the Napoleonic Wars. Beaten in a sudden battle with the French frigate Acheron, Aubrey is enraged at his defeat and goes after the ship he had orders to capture or sink. He was attacked under dense fog and the Surprise was badly damaged. After a horrific storm and onboard insubordinations, Aubrey finds his nemesis and, though Acheron is a superior ship, plans a daring attack.

Aubrey’s relationship with ship’s surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), is mercurial. Maturin is not a sailor. An aristocratic, he disapproves of much of Aubrey’s tactics. He would prefer collecting bugs on a visit to the Galapagos Islands.

There are harrowing onboard surgeries. Be prepared for realistic, anesthetic-free gore.

Yes, the production is breathtaking and spectacular in detail. Yet, it is Crowe that is utterly captivating as Aubrey. Crowe addressed the weight issue in Entertainment Weekly (Aug. 22-29, 2003). Crowe said: “There are fans out there who are disgruntled because I didn’t do the role at 17 stone [238 pounds]. In the books, Aubrey ranges from 14 to 17 stone, sometimes on the same voyage.”

And sometimes in the same film.

Incredibly, Crowe’s weight works here. It also noticeably fluctuates. Crowe commands space. He demands attention. He poses, bountifully enjoying his position of absolute authority. Even heavy, he’s remarkably sexy. He has a passion that emanates from him. You can believe he’s not acting; he’s actually commanding the ship. Except for the sailors and a few supporting players, Crowe’s performance dominates the film. Crowe’s brilliance is in nuance. You can see his character thinking. The set pieces that are necessary to add dimension to the character are gracefully handled. We are not clobbered over the head with Aubrey’s feelings for the young boy under his command, Lord Blakeney (Max Pirkis).Aubrey has a sense of humor that he uses sparingly. It is a fully realized performance with Crowe’s charisma oozing out of him.

Bettany had the more difficult role. Not a sailor, Maturin is left behind for most of the swordplay and combat. As Aubrey’s ”conscience” he could appear whiny. You can see that Crowe and Bettany developed the subtext (carefully avoiding the homoerotic angle) of such a closed-quarters intimate relationship (they play music together) based on respect but one that ultimately must yield to hierarchical deference.

I loved Peter Weir’s direction. He was obviously not overwhelmed by the vastness of the production and complexities of mounting such an epic. M&C is truly the best adventure movie of the year.


Credits:
Director: Peter Weir
Screenwriters: Peter Weir, John Collee
Based on the novels by: Patrick O’Brian
Producers: Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Weir, Duncan Henderson
Executive producer: Alan B. Curtiss
Director of photography: Russell Boyd
Production designer: William Sandell
Editor: Lee Smith
Costume designer: Wendy Stites
Music: Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, Richard Tognetti

Cast:
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Russell Crowe
Dr. Stephen Maturin: Paul Bettany
Coxswain Barrett Bonden: Billy Boyd
1st Lt. Thomas Pullings: James D’Arcy
Hollom: Lee Ingleby
Seaman Joe Plaice: George Innes
Mr. Hogg: Mark Lewis Jones
Capt. Howard: Chris Larkin
Lord Blakeney: Max Pirkis

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