Movie Review
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Master & Commander poster
By Stephen Lucas     Published November 29, 2003
US Release: November 14, 2003

Directed by: Peter Weir
Starring: Russell Crowe , Richard Stroh , Paul Bettany , Billy Boyd

Running Time: 139 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $93,926,386
The direction, acting, and cinematography are, in their own ways, excellent.
Russell Crowe has been both master and commander of the Academy Awards the past four years having garnered three Best Actor nominations, and winning once for his starring role in ?Gladiator.? His latest film (which is obvious Oscar bait) seems befitting to Crowe seeing as though the title, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, is intelligent to the fact that he?s commanding onscreen and it?s certainly as longwinded as Crowe in real life.

Directed by Peter Weir (?Dead Poets Society?), the $135-million sea epic is a combined adaptation of two Patrick O?Brian novels; one being Master and Commander; the other, The Far Side of the World (both are beloved novels following the epic story of Navy Capt. Jack Aubrey and his adventures at sea). Crowe stars as Aubrey, a hard but truly caring man in charge of the men aboard his vessel. What could have been a long, plodding film (as I had previously expected from its trailer), ?Master and Commander? is actually a sharp, absorbing adventure; though it exceeds two hours in running time, the film?s length is justified for the most part by its story and battle sequences.

I will admit, however, to being bored with the opening fifteen minutes of the film, nearly dozing off. I feel that the stiffness of the beginning may be (in hindsight) requisite in understanding the film?s effectiveness. My first impression was that ?Master and Commander? would probably be about a predictable group of men who have an equally trite adventure; at that point, I didn?t know who was aboard and what was in store for me. The introductory elements are slow but are surely worth sitting through, as this film is very dramatic and action-packed.

Like this year?s powerful ?Mystic River,? ?Master and Commander? is what some may regard as a male drama, as both films show the dynamics within this particular sex, much like female-oriented pictures like ?Steel Magnolias.? I was moved by ?Mystic River? due to its excellent sense of character and the way in which things happen to them is so realistic; ?Commander? never really achieves what that particular film did, but deserves no less credit overall.

?Master and Commander? encompasses a lot of what I feel action films are lacking nowadays: a decent plot, likeable characters, tension, and a message. I?m as open to any other action film even though they may not have all of the above. May I remind you that I?m in the minority saying that ?Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life? is a good action movie; it has a fun story and a strong lead character (and actress, Angelina Jolie) but very little tension or any worthwhile message.

Also, what puts ?Commander? ahead of the pack ? unlike these last two ?Matrix? sequels ? is simplicity; we have in this film a large battleship and its diverse crew and their journey through the ocean, yet it?s exciting, informative and fantastically done.

I can imagine my grandfather years from now flipping through channels and coming across ?Master and Commander? on television, sitting there, and being fully enthralled (as would I if I came across it). He?s the type of guy who likes the old-fashioned war and suspense movies, and often doesn?t find other, more unconventional films appealing. Understandably, we?re heading into a new age of cinema (hopefully with improved CGI) and this is something of homage to the good old days of action.

Not only was I compelled by the spectacle of the production ? the direction, acting, and cinematography are, in their own ways, excellent ? but the writing allowed me to wonder what was going to happen and who was to die. I?ve sat through action films in which people are murdered and not really care because we didn?t get to know them before that point.

Crowe?s Jack Aubrey is a strong, proud captain of his ship who seems to care about order and justice but in addition, we learn of his inner complexities. He has a very sincere relationship with his best friend despite the formalities of their different titles; at one point, he chooses against his friend?s wishes and dreams, instead choosing the ship?s welfare; later on, though, he feels repentance.

Crowe?s performance may not be as complex as that of ?A Beautiful Mind? or as dead on as in ?The Insider,? but like his Oscar-winning work in ?Gladiator,? he proves once again that he knows how to bring power, honor, and compassion to the screen. ?Master and Commander? is very similar in both story and character to ?Gladiator,? and both films have their separate accolades and share Crowe. His co-stars are all very good, especially Paul Bettany who plays Crowe?s best friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin; coincidentally, Bettany portrayed John Nash?s (imaginative) friend in ?Mind.? Each shipmate in the film is important to the story, and each is portrayed fittingly by their actors.

Those looking for something loud, bloody, and wholly entertaining will find that ?Master and Commander? is an adept choice. The expansiveness and detail of the film?s sets, costumes, and countless other things is impressive to say the least, accentuating graceful camera movement and thrilling cinematography. Weir has made a lasting piece of action/adventure that may only get better with each viewing. I commend him on his latest effort as well as his previous works like ?Truman Show?; the latter is very dissimilar to ?Commander? ? besides, maybe, Jim Carrey?s climatic voyage in the fake water ? and so I?m impressed that a direction can be so varied in his choice of project.

Even though ?Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World? takes about as long as it takes to say that mouthful of a title to start moving, it only gets better. The adventure and spectacle presented in his production is one that I feel cinematic enthusiasts will applaud. The Oscars now lie ahead for ?Master and Commander? and it has (in my opinion) a good chance of conquering a fair number of nominations.
Stephen's Grade: A-
Stephen's Overall Grading: 23 graded movies
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'Master & Commander' Articles
  • Gareth's review B+
    November 29, 2003    One of the best films of the year and a likely Oscar contender. -- Gareth Von Kallenbach
  • Friday Box Office Analysis (11/14)
    November 15, 2003    With Elf having a chance to claim the top spot after its second-place finish last week, there is a chance that Fox may possibly over-estimate Master & Commander?s weekend performance if the race is indeed close. -- Lee Tistaert