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Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner20/11/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 139 mins

Exhilarating, intelligent action / adventure movie, impressively directed by Peter Weir and featuring terrific performances from both Crowe and Bettany.

Typical. You wait years for a decent sea-based adventure movie and then two come along at once. If Pirates of the Caribbean has whetted your appetite for a spot more swashbuckling, then Master & Commander may have your name spliced on its mainbrace. Or something.

Co-written and directed by Peter Weir and based a combination of two of the hugely popular novels by Jack O’Brian, Master & Commander (and its unwieldy subtitle The Far Side of the World) stars Russell Crowe as British Navy Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany (Crowe’s co-star and roommate in A Beautiful Mind) as Ship’s Doctor Stephen Maturin. Primarily, the film charts the relationship between these two different men, but there’s a nominal plot, too.

Sink The French

Set in 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars, the film begins with Aubrey’s ship, the HMS Surprise, sailing off the coast of Brazil and receiving orders to intercept the French warship Acheron, with the instruction to “sink her, burn her or take her as a prize”.

However, those Frenchies are a sneaky bunch and the Surprise is itself surprised in a devastating (and brilliantly orchestrated) attack, scant minutes into the film, after which the hunter becomes the hunted.

It’s a superb opening gambit – the sound effects as the cannonballs rip through the boat bring home the frailty of their ship and the audience is fully alert from that point on. (Minutes later, Maturin is seen coolly chopping off a young boy’s arm, so you know that the film isn’t about to pull any punches).

The performances are excellent. Crowe appears to have been at the pies in preparation for the role (Aubrey is apparently meant to be stocky) but he is never less than convincing as the sort of charismatic figure his men would gladly die for.

The excellent script also retains Aubrey’s fondness for terrible jokes, particularly in a splendid gag involving two insects – one of the best scenes in the film. Crowe is matched, however, by Bettany, who is simply terrific as Maturin, despite the loss of some of his character’s complexity from the novels.

Whenever he’s onscreen, the film is an absolute treat and the arguments between the two men (whose offscreen friendship translates into an obvious onscreen rapport) are just as exciting as the effects-heavy set pieces.

Astounding Action Sequences

The supporting cast are good, too, though the only real stand-out is Max Pirkis as the (surprisingly non-annoying) 13 year old (one-armed) Lord Blakeney, who learns valuable lessons from both Aubrey and Maturin. Also notable is Robert Pugh as Master Allen, though Lord of the Rings fans may be slightly disappointed that Billy Boyd has so little to do.

The effects and the set design are terrific – Weir uses both a real ship at sea and the ‘Titanic’ tank sets in Baja California – and the storm sequence as the Surprise rounds Cape Horn is nothing less than astonishing. Weir also achieves a real sense of life on board the ship throughout the film, thanks to impressive camerawork below decks and a scrupulous attention to detail.

Adding to that atmosphere is the fact that the majority of the film takes place aboard ship, although there is a brief excursion to the Galapagos Islands (using the genuine location).

In short, there’s a pleasantly old-fashioned quality to Master and Commander, marking it out as the sort of film ‘they’ supposedly don’t make anymore. Featuring terrific battle sequences, great performances and several great scenes, the film is that rare thing – a genuinely exciting, intelligent action film. Highly recommended.

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Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World (12A)
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Content updated: 24/10/2017 06:41

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