Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D’Arcy, Max Pirkis, Billy Boyd
Synopsis: The year is 1805, as we follow the adventures of Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey (Crowe) and his 28 gun vessel, the H.M.S. Surprise. Over the course of tis particular mission, the Surprise is hunting the French frigate Acheron. Problem is, the Acheron proves a more able predator, with a new stronger hull which also grants it speed, in addition to having more guns. This mission takes Aubrey and his crew through many of the conditions of see life, from gales to being becalmed, through battles of superstition with authority, and even battles between friends, as sacrifices are made in the name of the service.
Having previously covered the entire Hornblower franchise in reviews, when I approached this film I feared covering similar ground in commentary. Rewatching the film though, I was reminded of the many differences that existed in this film compared to the latter franchise, even where similarities are apparent.
I am personally unfamiliar with the Patrick O’Brien Master and Commander books, of which The Far Side of the World is one of many. The tone is overall very different to Hornblower. Where Hornblower is a brilliant tactician who works his way up through the ranks mainly on this attribute, Aubrey is very much your fighting man, just as successful despite his different approach. Also unlike Hornblower, he grew up in the service from a young age, to the point where “there is enough of his own blood soaked into the hull of the Surprise for him to consider it a relation”. As such, it leads to a much different, a much more visceral viewing experience.
It is a role that Crowe was meant to play. He does have a very commanding on-screen presence, and he is at home making hard decisions at the helm as he is cracking low brow jokes with his crew when dining in his quarters. His motivations are unequivocal, any promise he makes being subject to the requirements of the service. This fact is further verified by the influences on him from serving with the venerable Lord Nelson on two occasions, including the Battle of the Nile. Of course, this dog-headed approach to his command does bring him to lock horns with his best friend, the ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Bettany). This is particularly apparent when naturalist Maturin’s desires to catalogue new species in the Galapagos is continually deferred as new information about the position of the Acheron comes to light. I must note though, it is quite amusing that Bettany should move on from this to the other famous naturalist to visit the Galapagos at a later date (Charles Darwin in Creation).
So dramatically, there is a lot going on, and the lead cast are brilliant, more than able to the task. The trouble is, however, that for those that are not already fans of the genre, there is very little of a way in , and as such the target audience is immediately limited. Also, despite the fact I do consider myself part of that target audience, the amount going on at times overwhelmed me as a viewer, and I perhaps would have appreciated events to be stretched over more than a single film. That said, Weir is a veritable cinema master for drama, and perhaps this boggling effect was his goal, trying to make the audience not only observe, but to feel the hardships of this lifestyle. The entire lack of a female on-screen in this film however does not exactly make it a date film, so be warned.
3 stars out of 5