Being on a ship isn’t always swashbuckling fun.
Russell Crowe is Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, renowned as a fighting captain in the British Navy, and Paul Bettany is the ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin. Their ship, the HMS Surprise, is suddenly attacked by a superior enemy. With the Surprise badly damaged and much of his crew injured, Aubrey is torn between duty and friendship as he pursues a high-stakes chase across two oceans.
Anybody who ever hears the words “ships” and “pirates”, automatically think of Captain Jack running rampant all over the seas, with his pet monkey on his shoulder. However, how do people feel whenever they make a story like this, with adults in mind? Answer is, more rum!
Director Peter Weir did a great job with accurate depiction of what it would really be like to stay on a ship like this, way back when. All these people do all day is stare at the ropes of the boat and the stars in the sky, then eat, sleep, drink, occasionally have a battle, and then go back to eating, sleeping, and drinking all over again. It seems very tedious, which is an emotion that Weird conveys very well and it’s a real change of pace we usually see from the fun, hip, and energetic movies about pirates out on the seas, having a grand old time. I also liked how we never knew who the enemy was in this story, considering we never know exactly who the hell these guys are going to face up against. Could be an army. Could be a leper boat. Hell, it could even be Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers. But either way, it was still as much of a mystery to me as it was to these guys in the movie.
Let’s also not forget to mention that Weir’s attention to detail is what made this a sight to see the whole film. Weir definitely has a great eye for what looks good and what doesn’t and with a film that takes place on a boat, that’s something to be commended for. The opening shot is absolutely stunning and got me ready for the rest of the shots I was going to get. Long, beautiful, and sweeping shots of the sea and land around it, really made me feel like I was out there with them and took me to this world where I never knew what was going to happen next or where I was going to be, just exactly like these people on the ship thought. Maybe I’m thinking about the cinematography a bit too much here, but when you have something that looks as pretty as this one, you can’t go without at least talking about it. I mean hell, just check out this shot right here. Now try and tell me that that isn’t something that catches your eye! By the way, it’s all real, no CGI. Don’t see that very often.
Even though Weir’s direction really brought me into the mood, the story itself didn’t do much for me and I have no idea who’s fault that was. First of all, the story is pretty slow and even though it does pick up every once and a blue moon, you still can’t help but feel like there should be more character development to have us care who lives, who dies, and who ends up getting put at the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker (which basically mean’s dead, but I just wanted an excuse to use that term). Whenever somebody died, and the crew had a huge ceremony for them, I didn’t really know or even care about it all that much because nothing really happens with these characters to drive this story on. It’s strange too, because even though action doesn’t take up the film, all of the other scenes weren’t really dedicated to the crew members or their character development, instead, the film just sort of lingered around. Weird, I know, plus add on a two hour run-time and you got yourself a boat ride that may over-stay its welcome by a good 45 minutes or so. Give or take.
Another strange aspect of this story, and probably its strongest was Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey. Once again, Crowe turns in another impressive and strong performance that shows he is able to convey so many emotions, no matter who he is playing. The character of Aubrey isn’t a very likable one, but Crowe somehow finds his way to get him by with a wee bit of charm and it worked on me, and then it didn’t. The problem with this character is that this guy goes through so many problems over the course of the flick, that it almost seems like he is a bit bi-polar. There’s those scenes where we see him being the commanding officer of the ship and is inspired to beat the enemy, then we see him being jealous towards his friend and not allow him to do what he wants to do (some random story about collecting newfound insects, that didn’t do much for me), and then he goes a little control freak-ish when he starts to lay down the law on some of the crew for not being respectful enough to him. However, at the end of all of this we get a shot of him feeling triumphant as if he was just another hero of the seas, when throughout the past 2 hours we get a glimpse at a person that seemed like he had a lot of control issues and went with his pride a bit too much. But the film tried to play him off like some great, heroic figure? Didn’t get it but I guess that’s why Weir hired Crowe to do the job since he’s always a great watch.
Another performance that almost steals the spotlight from Crowe is the one given by Paul Bettany as Aubrey’s supposed “friend”, Dr. Stephen Maturin. Bettany and Crowe last appeared in A Beautiful Mind together, where it was obviously Crowe’s show which was supposed to be the same plan here, instead, Bettany comes close to almost stealing the spot-light from him. Bettany easily as one of the best character arcs here because this is a dude that just wants to help everybody out on the ship, is very real with Jack and the crew, and just wants to see some damn animals! His character definitely sticks a lot of sense into Crowe’s face and it’s a real wonder why Bettany didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this one because his character was really the only one I actually cared about. Everybody else could get captured by Black Beard and I wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass.
Consensus: With a couple of good performances from the cast and a beautiful vision from Peter Weir, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World definitely should hit a lot harder than it does, but due to a lacking script without a confused central character and barely little, or no character development, the film just ends up being a mildly entertaining 2 and a half hours spent. Next time, just call up Johnny Depp.