Master and Commander:
The Far Side of the World
normally don't go for movies like Master and Commander: The Far Side of
the World. Not that I don't recognize the craft, but big
old-fashioned grand spectacles sometimes tend to bore me. I only go so
far appreciating bold David Lean inspired vistas and strong men fighting the
ravages of heartless Mother Nature.
though Russell Crowe has become a bit of a master of the art form, I have
always appreciated his more nuanced performances in the likes of The
Insider, A Beautiful Mind and even LA Confidential to the
testosterone-driven likes of Gladiator.
I am pleasantly surprised how rousingly enjoyable Master and Commander
turns out to be. It has a wonderfully simple premise. A British
ship, HMS Surprise, is ambushed on the high seas by a bigger, faster French
privateer ship. The commander and crew set about repairing the ship
and then enter in a cat and mouse game, following the attacking ship across
the ocean for a final showdown between good and evil.
far, so okay. What really makes the film soar, though, is the
meticulously detailed view of what it was like to live on a ship in the
early 19th century. The boredom, the crowded conditions, the
camaraderie, the sudden bursts of panic, the bad food, the honor, the
primitive conditions; all are explored with an unblinking and totally
course, in a movie this grand and with so many characters, it can sometimes
be hard to keep track of everyone. Many of the ship's inhabitants tend
to blend together. For example, at one point when the ship is forced
to leave behind a sailor who has been washed overboard in a raging storm, it
is a little harder to feel the crew's anguish because it is almost
impossible to tell who it was who died. Even now, I only think I know
who it was and I have to admit I thought it was two other characters before
that who ended up popping up later.
two characters who resonate the most are of course the main characters.
Capt. Jack Aubrey is a legendary ship commander (his nickname is "Lucky
Jack") who must lead the ragtag crew across the dangerous waters.
Acting as Capt. Aubrey's conscience is his best friend, the ship's doctor
Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany, who also played Crowe's "friend" in A
Beautiful Mind.) Maturin is unique because he is the only person
on the ship who is not awed by the legendary leader. Captain Aubrey
respects the fact that the doctor will be straight with him, even when he
doesn't like to hear what he has to say. (In fact, at some points the
Captain and the doctor sound a bit like a squabbling married couple, and I
don't mean that in a homo-erotic way.)
Other characters who do make a mark are a very young seaman (this film shows
powerfully how boys of thirteen worked alongside old salts) who loses his
arm tragically on his first days on the sea, but becomes an indispensable
ally. There is also an overwhelmed officer who is driven to
destruction by a disrespectful crew.
all leads to a climactic battle in which Lucky Jack must match wits with the
French commander. If you like your adventures grand, with manly men
braving the elements and fighting for God and country, Master & Commander
is the film for you. Surprisingly, you'll probably like it even if you
don't go for that.
have not read any of Patrick O'Brian's books, from which this film springs.
And while I had never had any interest in them previously, this film tempts
me to pick up the novels, which I guess is as good a recommendation as you
Jay S. Jacobs
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Posted: December 12,