Journey across the oceans with Peter Weir’s terrific seafaring adventure MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD.
Director Peter Weir’s terrific adventure MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD is a film I never tire of watching. Whether it’s on TV or I fancy putting on my DVD copy, it’s an opportunity to take an unmissable voyage and watch a near-perfect movie.
“England is under threat of invasion and though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is our home. This ship is England.”
Russell Crowe rallies his crew of the HMS Surprise with these sterling words and in doing so delivers, I think, the best performance of his career to date as Captain ‘Lucky Jack’ Aubrey. Sailing the perilous seas in Weir’s beautiful recreation of Napoleonic warfare, he shows us the steely resolve that we witnessed in Gladiator, combined with the gruff gentleness he’s also displayed in the likes of L.A. Confidential, Cinderella Man and The Insider.
He’s ably supported here by a veritable roll-call of brilliant British actors from James D’Arcy as 1st Lt. Tom Paulings, Robert Pugh as Sailing Master Mr Allen, Lee Ingleby as Midshipman Hollom, Richard McCabe as Surgeon’s Mate Mr Higgins, Billy Boyd as Coxswain Barrett Bonden and David Threlfall as Killick the Captain’s Steward to an almost scene-stealing turn from the young Max Pirkis as Midshipman Blakeney. But it’s Paul Bettany who supported Crowe to such stunning effect in A Beautiful Mind, who here provides the telling foil to show the human part of naval life, as the ship’s doctor (and moral compass of the crew) Stephen Maturin.
Bettany’s is a wonderful performance matching Crowe at every turn and providing an almost feminine dynamic to this boy’s own tale of daring-do. Aubrey and Maturin are like an old married couple, bickering over professional ethics and options in pursuit of their enemy (the French warship Acheron) but also in quieter moments, finding solace and humour in their musical duets, with violin and cello speaking volumes for what they’re thinking.
If you want action though there’s plenty of it with breathtaking battle sequences, impeccably staged by Weir and shot by ace cinematographer Russell Boyd, where it’s literally every man to defend the ship and win the day. Where Weir also succeeds though is in capturing the very human side of warfare and I challenge you not to be moved as you witness the cost a potential victory will have on everyone on this voyage. But then powerful emotion has always been one of the driving elements in writer/director Weir’s work – from the beautifully drawn culture clash of Witness to what makes us tick as human beings that made The Truman Show so memorable; from the tragedy of such a waste of life that we saw in Gallipoli to the joy of seeing a group of disparate people working together to survive in his most recent film The Way Back, his films are always so moving. And I haven’t even mentioned Fearless, The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poet’s Society, The Year of Living Dangerously, Green Card, or his breakthrough film Picnic at Hanging Rock. Quite a filmography.
If you want to listen to great dialogue then this film delivers that too thanks to a spot-on adaptation of the novels of Patrick O’Brian by Weir and his co-screenwriter John Collee. Like the fantastic quote I’ve mentioned, you have a script that not only captures the real spirit and heroism of the time but that also has wry humour that will make you smile no matter how many times you see the movie.
And so when you have all that together with Crowe and the ensemble giving such superbly rich performances and scenes like the last shot of the movie – certainly one of the most stunning you’ll ever see combining music, image and then silence to such spectacular effect – for me, MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD really does rule the waves. “Huzzah!”