Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of featurette 'The Hundred Days';
Peter Weir on directing; Special effects documentary; Sound design
documentary; HBO First Look special; The Last Battle multi-angle
studies; Camera setups and split screen vignette; Stills galleries;
Interactive sound recording feature; Inside look at I
SAY what you will about the off-screen antics of Russell Crowe,
but there is no denying the Australian actor makes great movies.
Witness his epic turn in Ridley Scotts Oscar-winning Gladiator,
or his ruthless cop in Curtis Hansons LA Confidential, or
even his own Oscar-winning performance in Ron Howards very
good, if flawed, A Beautiful
Mind, as evidence.
Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, which has
been dubbed by many as Gladiator on the High Seas, is another
in that vein - a grand, old-fashioned affair, which effortlessly
combines the required spectacle with a refreshingly human element,
thus ensuring that its characters never become lost amid the explosions
and set pieces.
Directed by Peter Weir, and based upon the best-selling novels
by Patrick OBrian, the film chronicles the adventures of
Crowes Captain Jack Aubrey and his loyal surgeon and friend,
Dr Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), as they relentlessly pursue
the French dreadnought vessel, the Acheron, from Brazil, around
Cape Horn, to the Galapagos Islands, during the time of the Napoleonic
The movie begins with the Acherons attempted ambush of
Aubreys vessel, the Surprise, in suitably rousing fashion,
before picking up the chase and presenting a riveting and historically
accurate depiction of life aboard a warship in the 19th Century.
Weir does an excellent job of combining the requisite thrills
with a keen eye for detail, while also injecting much deliberation
about the human cost involved in such a struggle.
Most, if not all, of the key crew members are well depicted -
from Max Pirkis plucky 12-year-old crew member, Lord Blakeney,
to Lee Inglebys doomed Midshipman, Hollom - but it is Crowe
and Bettany, building on their winning chemistry in A Beautiful
Mind, who stride through proceedings, playfully vying with each
other for the acting honours.
Crowes ruthlessly-determined sea-faring legend provides
a suitably rugged, but commanding presence, driven by a wounded
pride and his loyalty to Lord Nelsons mandate, while Bettany
positively excels as his friend and conscience, providing a sympathetic
ear and a fearless word of advice, whenever his captain requires
it, even though their views on science and the military threaten
to place them at odds.
The scenes between the two, particularly when playing their instruments
during lulls in proceedings, provide the movie with its strong
emotional core, because they are played with an honesty and conviction
rarely seen nowadays.
Much of this is due to the time Weir gives them to build such
a strong rapport with both themselves and the audience, but it
is also clear that the two stars work well with each other, having
now supported each other in back-to-back movies.
And while some of the finer details of proceedings may slow things
down considerably from the adrenaline-charged excess of, say,
the Summer season, the action - when it arrives - is suitably
grandiose and, better still, realistically depicted.
A chase around the storm-lashed Cape Horn is likely to leave
you feeling as sea-sick and as drenched as the crew itself, while
the climactic battle between the crews of the Surprise and the
Acheron is both crowd-pleasingly swashbuckling and bone-crunchingly
Where this Summers Pirates
of the Caribbean recalled the tongue-in-cheek revelry of Burt
Lancasters Crimson Pirate, or classic Errol Flynn, Master
& Commander possesses the epic feel of a Mutiny on the Bounty
or Ben Hur, in terms of scope and ambition.
Fans of either type of movie have therefore enjoyed something
of an embarrassment of riches this year, with Crowes effort
probably providing the closest insight you will ever get to experiencing
life on the High Seas. It is a masterclass, both in terms of acting
and directing, which looks set to feature prominently during next
years Oscar season.