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  Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Emotion On The Ocean
Year: 2003
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy, Edward Woodall, Chris Larkin, Max Pirkis, Jack Randall, Max Benitz, Lee Ingleby, Richard Pates, Robert Pugh, Richard McCabe, Ian Mercer, Billy Boyd, David Threlfall, Brian Dick, Joseph Morgan, Patrick Gallagher
Genre: Drama, Action, Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1805 and Napoleon has conquered most of Europe, but The United Kingdom remains steadfast in standing against him on land and sea. Their Navy has been battling French ships across the Atlantic and one of those is the H.M.S. Surprise, captained by Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) who takes control of his charges with a firm but fair approach, commanding respect among his men as well as his fellow officers. But could he have met his match with his latest assignment to chase and destroy the French warship Acheron? He and his crew thought they had the upper hand until the enemy loomed out of the fog and took all-too-accurate shots at the Surprise, almost sinking it, and now they are in trouble...

In 2003, there was only one Captain Jack who the paying audiences were lining up to see, and he wasn't Captain Jack Aubrey, unfortunately for the fans of the Patrick O'Brian novels this was based on with a view to creating a franchise. The first Pirates of the Caribbean instalment was released and Captain Jack Sparrow as essayed by Johnny Depp was all anyone was talking about, love him or hate him, leaving a very fine performance by Russell Crowe as a far more respectable seafaring gent sinking with all hands. However, be they the followers of the books or newcomers to the story, Master and Commander managed to generate a healthy cult following with the passage of time, and if anything was finally more respected than the Pirates movies.

Which must have been satisfying for the makers of this to hear since it was obvious in every frame that a lot of care and attention had been paid to the visuals, concocting an ocean epic that in its very old-fashioned quality worked towards a timeless element that was shot through each scene, a benefit for posterity for films that took a historical setting as their subject, albeit running the risk of the nitpickers who would point out all the anachronisms translating the period to the big screen had brought about. Unless you wanted to show off your erudition, for the rest of us we could appreciate a rollicking tale of the Napoleonic Wars, though wryly observing in the books it was drawn from it was an American ship as the potential nemesis of the Surprise.

Goodness, I wonder what possible motive the Hollywood backers of this film had in changing the villains to the French rather than leaving the source as it was? Anyway, cynicism aside you could only wonder at why Master and Commander had underperformed at the box office way back in 2003, some say historical drama was a tough sell in the blockbuster landscape, or maybe audiences didn't like Aubrey's weevils joke, which was perfectly understandable. But as this was rediscovered, the appeal to the aficionados of these efforts was plain, and not only those who got a kick out of the novelty of watching something set on the ocean wave in the nineteenth century which was not often explored in cinema at the turn of the millennium, as it didn't mess about, it took its subject very seriously.

Aside from Captain Aubrey's terrible gags, that was, yet the action was here, the sights that Peter Weir was known for where his love of showing the effects of the weather and environment on his characters was given free rein. Here we even had a character who was a naturalist, the Surprise's doctor Stephen Maturin played by Paul Bettany who made such a good team with Crowe, reuniting after A Beautiful Mind, that you lamented that they never joined forces to any great significance in later works, never mind that more in this series were not made. The crew are not angels, and Aubrey must deal with them harshly if the need arises, but he is not unreasonable: when the young Midshipman Barkley (Max Pirkis) loses an arm thanks to the Acheron's initial attack, he refuses to reject him as dead wood but makes him a vital part of the crew. Not that he gets his own way every time, as when one of his officers is landed with the dreaded Jonah tag that has tragic consequences, though as a rule backwards steps are dealt with eventual efficiency. Climaxing in another battle, there was reflection too as we noted the two combatants were really very alike in a satisfying naval excursion that deserved better in its day.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Peter Weir  (1944 - )

Australian writer and director with a touch of the mystical about his work, usually fish out of water dramas. After various short films, he made The Cars That Ate Paris, a darkly funny horror which nearly ended his career when it failed financially. But he bounced back with Picnic at Hanging Rock, an international hit which led to apocalyptic fantasy The Last Wave, war tragedy Gallipoli and political thriller The Year of Living Dangerously, whereupon he moved to Hollywood to direct Amish thriller Witness, survival tale The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poets Society (possibly his worst film), comedy Green Card, spiritual air crash drama Fearless, science fiction satire The Truman Show, historical adventure Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and WW2 era trek movie The Way Back.

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