Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is an unmissable voyage

Journey across the oceans with Peter Weir’s terrific seafaring adventure Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

“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 in Master and CommanderRussell Crowe rallies his crew with sterling words and in doing so delivering, I think, the best performance of his career to date in Peter Weir’s amazing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. As Captain ‘Lucky Jack’ Aubrey, sailing the perilous seas in a beautiful recreation of Napoleonic warfare by Weir, he shows us the steely resolve that we witnessed in Gladiator, combined with the gruff gentleness he’s also displayed in the likes of LA Confidential, Cinderella Man and The Insider.

He’s ably supported by a veritable roll-call of brilliant British actors, from James D’Arcy, Robert Pugh, Lee Ingelby, Billy Boyd and David Threlfall, to an almost scene stealing turn from the young Max Pirkis. But it’s Paul Bettany, who supported Crowe to such stunning effect in A Beautiful Mind, that 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. It’s a terrific performance, matching Crowe at every turn and providing an almost feminine dynamic to a 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 quiet moments, finding solace and humour in their musical duets, with violin and cello speaking volumes for what they’re thinking.

Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe in Master and CommanderIf you want action though there’s plenty of it, with breathtaking battle sequences, impeccably staged by Weir and shot by 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 emotion has always been one of the driving elements in writer / director Weir’s work – think Witness, The Truman Show or his recent The Way Back. Here, with the mix of Crowe giving such a superbly rich performance, along with scenes like the last shot of the movie – certainly one of the most stunning you’ll ever see – that combines music, image and then silence to such spectacular effect, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World really does rule the waves.

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