Finally, an adventure film for grownups. MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD, based on the wildly popular Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’ Brian, is brought to vivid life with a literate script, intelligent performances, and a respect for its audience.
While the story takes place during the Napoleanic Wars, the focus is on the characters who man a British warship sailing the seas to pick off French battleships. Sure, there are battles complete with cannons, swordplay and firearms, but the action is true to the time. Things do not blow up real good for the sake of pyrotechnics, there is no rock soundtrack, and the direction by Peter Weir eschews the sort of flashy editing designed more to sell the soundtrack than to advance the action.
Our hero is Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), known at Lucky Jack to his loyal crew. He’s stalwart, brave, and can make decisive life and death decisions with the proper amount of manly angst to show that he doesn’t do so lightly. He’s also tough, through storms, doldrums, battles, putative curses and unforgivable puns, even taking a projectile to the throat in the opening battle sequence and barely missing a beat as he continues fighting. The projectile is removed by ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, a scholarly type who’s on board as much to pursue his naturalist hobby as to aid the boys for fight for king and country. A remote island teaming with new species is to Aubrey like Christmas, New Year’s and a month of birthday’s all rolled into one.
Their friendship is the heart of the story. Not natural companions, one a man of action, the other a man of letters, but thrown together in the close quarters that are the good ship Surprise, their mutual admiration and love of music helps. It also helps that Aubrey is a little on the brainy side himself and that
The Aubrey-Maturin novels are known for being meticulous in their historical accuracy. Thus, being true to that spirit, this is not a glamorous world we see. The battles are nasty, brutish and not short enough. The crew’s quarters are dark, dank, cramped and rendered so that we can practically smell the fetid air. The medicine that
The action takes the Surprise from
To complicate life, there are belligerent French and privateers who we learn, are not to be confused with pirates, on-board drama and heartbreak that all add up to make MASTER AND COMMANDER an engrossing and ripping yarn from start to finish.