Movie Review | Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Movie summary: During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America. (IMDb)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is one film that very much deserved a sequel and unfortunately has never got one, despite the occasional hints being dropped that the possibility is being talked about.
Much like Gladiator, this is Russell Crowe’s film and boy does he own it – his Captain Jack Aubrey is magnificent, and is quite possibly the best performance I have ever seen from Crowe. It helps that Crowe is clearly enthusiastic about the part and utterly commits to bringing Aubrey to life, warts and all.
I say ‘warts and all’ because this movie doesn’t shy away from depicting what conditions on a ship in the eighteenth-century would’ve been like. This includes Aubrey ordering one of the crew to receive a lashing just for pushing past a superior officer aggressively.
To us, it appears a harsh punishment for so minor a crime, but you never think less of Aubrey for giving the order. It’s a military vessel, and the officers have to respected by the lower ranks if they are going to survive their mission; you break the rules, you suffer the punishment.
Actually, the feel of the film reminds me a little of Mad Max: Fury Road, with both movies being games of cat and mouse interspersed with brief moments of peace that contrast with the explosive action when it erupts – the only difference is that here it’s two huge ships blowing the hell out of each other instead of cars.
It’s during one of those periods of quiet that we get to know the characters though, and they are all great. A word of warning: as was the case at the time, there are no women and no people of colour on board Aubrey’s ship – historical accuracy does mean little diversity, but fortunately internet-based degenerates haven’t ‘claimed’ this film yet.
And a good thing too, because none of them could hold a candle to Aubrey, or his doctor friend, Stephen Maturin. This is also possibly Paul Bettany’s best performance in a movie too, and his friendship with Aubrey works beautifully thanks to the chemistry between Crowe and Bettany.
I do think it’s a little under-rated in just how hard it is to depict a proper friendship in fiction, with people often getting on a little too well to make it clear to the audience just what good pals two characters are.
Not here: Aubrey and Maturin are unquestionably their own men, with their own personalities and interests that don’t always mesh. There is conflict between them, but also respect and understanding, with each of them willing to learn from the other in order to compromise.
It’s Maturin’s studies of the wildlife, a stick insect in particular, that inspires Aubrey how to defeat their enemy, and it is the respect Aubrey commands as Captain that forces Maturin to abandon his exploration of the Galapagos Islands and set them off in pursuit.
It might not sound like much, but it is the fact that they are either sceptical or reluctant to heed these feelings that make them feel real. Too often in a film, characters will make those decisions easily, but Aubrey and Maturin clearly disagree on a number of issues and compromise only when they have to – and you do get the impressions that only they could make the other concede a point.
It’s not just them either: the younger members of the cast – again, staying historically accurate with children learning how to become officers on a warship – are fantastic too, especially Max Pirkis as Blakeney, who desperately wants to be like Aubrey and ends up becoming good friends with Maturin, taking on the best parts of both men.
I just want to stress one last time that this movie really doesn’t shy away from the reality of what can happen when keeping things historically-accurate, as not even the younger officers are safe from harm or death. Most films change history to suit the story – this uses history to make the story better.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a modern great and wholly unappreciated in how it used historical accuracy to brilliantly bring to life a work of fiction. The cast is fantastic from bow to stern and Russell Crowe is flat-out incredible as Captain Aubrey – when the credits start, you’ll feel disappointed that you can’t spend more time with them.