Film Review

Master & Commander:
The Far Side of the World

DVD review of Master & Commander:
The Far Side of the World

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By Richard Moore

The Lord be praised. Hollywood has got it right. Largely due to a couple of rather clever lads from Australia, boosted by some great British actors and a whacking great bankroll from the US.

For Russell Crowe's latest epic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, is a rivetting historical drama set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Russell Crowe as Jack AubreyPeter Weir's film adaptation of the Patrick O'Brian novels easily combines realism, with senses-rattling action and adds in more than its fair share of an appreciation for history and naval tactics.

The hero is Lucky Jack, also known as Captain Jack Aubrey RN (Russell Crowe) whose ship the HMS Surprise is on a seek-and-destroy mission against a French privateer Acheron.

Aubrey and his crew are battle-hardened and confident, however, the enemy has a far superior ship and a captain who seems as good as the hero himself.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World opens with an awesome example of the horrors of Napoleonic naval warfare when the 24-gun Surprise is ... surprised by the 44-gun frigate Acheron.

It is eye-averting stuff at times, but the devastation and horrendous results of 18-pound cannonballs smashing through wooden hulls and flesh have to be seen to be believed.

And the grim nature of wooden ships versus iron men is only matched by the cramped and almost inhuman conditions that sailors in the days of fighting sail had to endure.

Unlike most historical movies, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World has no space between sacking hammocks to allow friends to chat during the long voyage. This is a cheek-by-jowl existence where even the officer's room is barely larger than table-sized.

And as for the idea of prim and proper officers, Aubrey's mob are hard-drinking dinner party guests who release the tensions of months at sea with drinking until sobriety is well over the horizon.

Uniforms are presentable, but not pristine, hair cuts are not perfectly coiffered and looks and body shapes are not what you'd expect from Hollywood.

Neither is Aubrey a Hollywood hero. He's brilliant, but fallible, and when his conscience - good mate and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) - suggests he's possibly going over the top he is dismissed with a savage curtness.

But this adds to his character and the richness of the human mix in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and shows the heroes of the Royal Navy to be nothing more than courageous, loyal men.

The basic plot of the movie is that Aubrey and his crew sail to intercept a French frigate that is out to sink as many British merchant and whaling ships as it can.

It begins with the ambush off Brazil and then continues on a long and exciting pursuit around the vicious Cape Horn and all the way to the Galapagos Islands.

On the way the crew of the Surpise has to deal with a host of exciting perils, wonderful discoveries and personal tests.

Above all, however, there is the wonderfully plotted game of cat and mouse between Aubrey and the unseen captain of "the phantom" Acheron.

It is mentally stimulating and will have the adrenalin pumping to boot.

Photographically it will make art lovers weep with pleasure as almost every shot is a perfect blend of framing and focus.

Every actor involved is superb and while the focus is usually on either Crowe or Bettany the support cast threatens to steal the show all over the place. George Innes, in particular, is one of the best superstitious old salts you could ever wish for.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is possibly the best movie ever made about the Napoleonic Wars and one can only hope that Hollywood turns its attention to a period in history that is teeming with more adventures and characters than there are fish in the oceans.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a must-see adventure that one hopes is only the beginning of a wonderful new cinematic era.


NB: 20th Century Fox's marketing and publicity departments responsible for promoting the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in Australia lent no assistance whatsoever to The Napoleonic Guide.

Despite repeated efforts on our part - those areas seemed so mainstream-oriented (read Internet ignorant) that we were unable to get even a brief talk with Russell Crowe on behalf of the 140,000+ Napoleonic Era fans who visit us each month.

We'll not mention the fact that they did not even send out media kits or have the courtesy to inform us - despite phone calls - about the date of the movie's Australian premiere.

Perhaps 20th Century Fox should move into the modern world and realise that not everyone watches commercial television, reads half-day old newspapers or doctor's waiting room magazines.

Maximum Russell Crowe website
Patrick O'Brian Film Page




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