Retro Film Review | Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Plot: 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.

Director: Peter Weir

Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy

Genre: Action/Adventure/Historical/Drama

Released: November 2003

To me, Peter Weir is one of the most underrated directors working in Hollywood today. with masterpieces such as Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show and Gallipoli in his back catalogue, Weir has managed given us some of Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, and Jim Carrey‘s best on-screen performances. It’s such a shame that he has so far been criminally overlooked for an Oscar, with Master and Commander missing out to the equally excellent Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy, and Edward Woodall in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

I must admit that I haven’t had the chance to read the novels that the film is based on, meaning that I can’t possibly comment on how truthful the adaptation is. Instead, I can only review the film as I found it and I must stay that although it has some faults, I still believe it to be an excellent piece of storytelling and from what I’ve read, one of the most accurate depiction of early 19th Century life at sea.

Despite being an entirely different film to Gallipoli, I can’t help but see some parallels between the two Weir movies, in that both have at their core focus on the friendship between two contrasting young men, this time between captain Aubrey (Crowe) and ships doctor Stephen Maturin (Bettany), the ship’s doctor. Who despite their contrasting personalities and disagreements, the two remain firm friends throughout, a dynamic that I felt added something to the plot made elevated it to more than just a more realistic Pirates of the Caribbean.

Paul Bettany in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

I have been a big fan of Crowe since Gladiator, with this film once again giving him the chance to flex his acting chops and by the end of the film, you can’t help but feel that he was perfectly cast, exuding the arrogance and charisma in perfect measure, just what you want from a leader who’s expected to be both a warrior and a master strategist. Opposite him, you have the almost unrecognizable Paul Bettany, in a never showy but strong performance nonetheless, while the rest of the supporting cast do a great job and especially the large number of younger actors.

Everything about the film looks authentic, with moments of great humour throughout and some strikingly beautiful cinematography that at no point can you say for sure if you are looking at a model or a computer-generated visual effect, the only downside being the scenes that were filmed on the Galapagos Islands, which despite all the wildlife on show were disappointing visually.

Master and Commander can be seen as an all-out man’s film, filled to the brim with testosterone, but it also contains a gentler side. Afterall a so-called man’s film does not necessarily mean its all about violence and bloodshed. It can also include themes of loyalty, honour, comradeship and unfortunately fear. All of which comes up multiple times during the course of the movie and sometimes leading to dire consequences.

Overall Master and Commander is a handsome, well crafted, cat and mouse film filled with wonderful set pieces, great acting and lovely dialogue, it’s such a shame that the film didn’t do as well enough at the box office to allow for further stories with these characters and become the swashbuckling adventure as it had the potential to be and giving Russell Crowe a chance to further develop his character.

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If you liked: Dunkirk, A Night To Remember, Ad Astra

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