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

Master and Commander

“Right lads, now, I know there’s not a faint heart among you, and I know you’re as anxious as I am to get into close action. But we must bring them right up beside us before we spring this trap. That will test our nerve, and discipline will count just as much as courage.”

Russell Crowe must be one of the biggest residual movie stars in Hollywood today. He hasn’t had a big hit with him at the centre in a long, long time. But he still seems to be regarded as an A-lister. That was the first thing that came to mind when I realised that Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was made in 2003, more than a decade ago. Because from what I remember, this thing died in the ass. As have most of Rusty’s big budget outings ever since. But he keeps on getting parts. And kind of like Rusty himself, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is unfairly overlooked by the film going audience.

It’s 1805, Napoleon’s running rampant across Europe and the British naval fleet is about the only thing that’s been able to resist his aggressions. His short man, feelings of inferiority fuelled aggressions. Off the coast of Brazil, Capt. Jack Aubrey (Crowe) is captaining the HMS Surprise. Also on board is the ship’s doctor, botanist, and Jack’s bestie, Paul Bettany as Dr Stephen Maturin. Soon under a sneak attack from, and badly damaged by, a rogue French ship, Jack’s quick thinking affords them a narrow escape into the fog, and Jack’s obsession for revenge is ignited.

After another pursuit is evaded, the HMS Surprise ends up at the Galapagos Islands so the sailors can repair their ship and themselves. But Jack’s blood lust can’t be abated, so he’s off again. Until Stephen catches a stray bullet while the starving crew hunt for albatross. Just as morale is at its lowest and the sailors begin to question the motivations and decisions of their once trusted captain, it’s time for cannons to be fired and swashes to be buckled once again.

I think Russell Crowe the person seems like a bit of a dick. But over the last couple of years, my view of Russel Crowe the actor has softened to where I can’t deny he’s pretty bloody good. And while his accent in Master and Commander might be a little local theatreish, his presence and gravitas as a leader is undeniable. He carries himself with a crazy level of confidence that makes me totally believe it when he leads his men into almost certain death, and they follow without a second thought.

And while Crowe is a major part of what makes Master and Commander so engrossing, director Peter Weir deserves just as much credit. The way he shoots the boats, and their connection to the ocean, is amazing. The ships and everyone aboard them are at the ocean’s mercy every single second, and Weir makes that feeling palpable. Gentle seas, devastating storms, the searing sun, Weir wrings amazing intensity out of all them. And the sound design makes every wave crash, water lap and cannon ball flight all the more intense.

There is one downside to Weir’s direction though. The Bourne Identity came out a year earlier, probably around the time Master and Commander was being shot. And I think Weir got a little too influenced by Bourne’s extreme close up, shakey cam fights. When the two ships are facing off, firing cannons from a distance, the action is amazing. Once it comes to hand to hand combat on the decks, the Bourne style makes things a little incoherent.

But those encounters are a very small part of the film, and make only the smallest dent in what is otherwise a great movie. Crowe nails it, Weir nails it, and the story cracks along at the perfect pace. Plenty of action, with just the right amount of quiet interludes to let you catch your breath. The subtitle, The Far Side if the World, makes it sound like this was to be the beginning of a series. Which makes it suck even more that Master and Commander was a bit of a financial flop. I’d love to see where these dudes headed next.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Directed By – Peter Weir
Written By – Peter Weir, John Collee

3 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

  1. Russell Boyd (Australia’s own Master and Commander) won an Oscar for his superb images on this film. Unlike Rusty, he is a quiet, unassuming and gentle human being. It is a great film based on a great character (from the book series) and you’re right, it’s a real pity we haven’t seen more. Rusty’s performance is wonderful.

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