(Originally posted 11/21/03)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World desperately wants to be the kind of swashbuckling adventure that Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster (in Robert Siodmak's vastly undervalued The Crimson Pirate) used to make. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite make the grade, but that's not to say it's a bad film. For the most part, Master and Commander is a quite sturdy and enjoyably romp through the ferocious Pacific high seas, and director Peter Weir wisely juxtaposes his chaotic, somewhat muddled action scenes with boatloads of authentic details about the daily life of a sailor stationed on a nineteenth-century warship The push-and-pull relationship between honor and duty on the one hand, and loyalty and compassion on the other, becomes the primary struggle for Captain Jack Aubrey, who as played by Russell Crowe is a courageous, daring captain whose steely eyes go ablaze during the heat of battle. The film is burdened by scenes designed to humanize the heroic Aubrey and his best friend, naturalist doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) - the moments in which the comrades play duets on the violin and bass come across as more rickety and waterlogged than the vessels that carry these military men into adventure. Yet despite these hoary interludes, the film's portrait of heroism strikes a chord mainly because of Crowe, whose brawny physicality and steel-jawed determination never undercut the character's persistent struggle with the high cost of victory. Still, the film's best scene may very well be its prelude, which finds cinematographer Russell Boyd's camera gracefully gliding to and fro on the ship's moonlit deck. The silhouettes of men lithely climbing ladders and pulling ropes while the tempestuous waves crash around them evokes both the beauty and toil of these sailors' existence, and has a magnificence that elegantly combines stark realism and impressionistic artistry.