Main cast: Russell Crowe (Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey), Paul Bettany (Dr Stephen Maturin), James D’Arcy (First Lt Tom Pullings), Edward Woodall (Second Lt William Mowett), Chris Larkin (Capt Howard), Max Pirkis (Blakeney), Jack Randall (Boyle), Max Benitz (Calamy), Lee Ingleby (Hollom), Richard Pates (Williamson), Robert Pugh (Master Allen), Richard McCabe (Mr Higgins), Ian Mercer (Mr Hollar), Tony Dolan (Mr Lamb), and David Threlfall (Preserved Killick)
Director: Peter Weir
I have not read the books by Patrick O’Brian chronicling the adventures of 19th century seafaring English Royal Navy Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey and his faithful buddy and the ship surgeon Dr Stephen Maturin, but I understand that Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World takes its plot mostly from the book The Far Side of the World but also includes scenes from other Jack Aubrey books. Aubrey’s the more go-getter type while Maturin is the sensible and sensitive type. Their differences in personalities and how they manage to stay friends and good allies make up the crux of this seafaring adventure movie.
The movie opens in April 1805 when Napoleon Bonaparte is poised to overrun the world. Aubrey’s HMS Surprise is stationed somewhere off the east coast of Brazil waiting to intercept the French ship Acheron. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, considering that the name of Aubrey’s vessel, HMS Surprise is indeed, er, surprised when the Acheron turns out to be a far more dangerous enemy than they expected. Saved by a fog, HMS Surprise manages to evade the enemy for the moment. Aubrey is determined to get the Acheron come what may, so a chase is on.
Filled with the usual dying lil’ kiddies, growly and rough but loyal crewmembers, and other seafaring adventure staple, this movie nonetheless manages to be entertaining despite the padded feel of the middle portions of the movie. The production crew spare not one cent in creating authentic scenes, and they pull it off very well. I feel a little seasick at times watching the movie. But what makes this movie work though is Russell Crowe’s playing off Paul Bettany in their respective roles. This movie is these two’s reunion after A Beautiful Mind, and I find that I like their chemistry better in this movie. Mr Crowe, no matter what I think of his off-screen antics, manages to imbue Aubrey with a sense of flawed nobility and chivalry while Mr Bettany’s Maturin is often charming in his playing the foil for Aubrey.
The battle scenes early and late in the movie are some spectacles indeed to behold, but I wish the movie has been more careful with the filler moments. There are some little soap opera-type subplots onboard the HMS Surprise that could have been reduced or downplayed, like the supposedly cursed officer. There are many scenes that keep me riveted – like Maturin’s surgical methods or his fascination with nature – but there are just as many that are, shall we say, plodding. Pacing is a problem in this movie. There can be awkwardly long stretch of nothing much happening in between bursts of frenetic activity, which is good for toilet breaks, but not so good if I want to pay attention to the movie without having to squirt overpriced iced cola over my eyelids to keep awake.
Despite some pacing problems, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World still manages to entertain me completely. And I don’t even find Russell Crowe attractive, so there you go: it’s not just his groupies that can enjoy this movie. It’s not just a Russell Crowe show, but also a well-done and entertaining movie.