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Suspense abounds on the open sea

Katie Wagner | Monday, November 24, 2003

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a suspenseful, emotionally drawing, slightly gory, war-at-sea movie. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) plays the captain of a British ship seeking to prevent a mysterious French ship from taking over Britain’s shores. This movie is set during Napoleon’s takeover of Germany, but it provides minimal historical insight into the Napoleonic wars. Instead, the film mainly presents a realistic view of the horrors of living on a war ship, focusing on the lifestyle of the sailors on the British ship, where there is little food and few places of shelter from the rough weather. British sailors die, are injured, get seasick, argue with each other and suffer from depression. The ocean is presented as a terrifying force to all sailors on board. Its power is especially obvious during battle and storm scenes – the approximately two and a half hour film is filled with such eye-capturing clips and interesting characters that it moves very quickly. The movie begins with the British ship being attacked by the French ship. The French attack leaves the ship badly wounded along with some of the British sailors. After this attack, the French ship disappears. Throughout the rest of the film, the British ship plots to retaliate by sneaking up on the French ship to destroy it. The problem is that the British ship is much smaller, slower and less sturdy than the French ship. The leadership of Captain Aubrey and the medical talents of the captain’s best friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), help keep the sailors’ spirits up. The horrible conditions at sea, however, threaten these two characters’ relationship with each other. Captain “Lucky” wants to continue pursuing the French ship, regardless of how dangerous this quest becomes, while the doctor insists on returning to England. Bettany’s acting is one of the greatest strengths of the film. He convinces viewers that he is very different from the rest of the men on board through displaying his intellect – and his indifference to defeating the French ship. In many of his scenes, Maturin is alone reading, writing or thinking. His mannerisms, language and appearance distinguish him from the other actors. Crowe, the only big name actor on screen, also does a great job of staying in character, although his acting is still secondary to Bettany’s. Crowe makes all of the decisions, commands respect from his sailors and is also well-liked. He remains calm, regardless how dangerous the situation, and he does a great job of handling deaths of his sailors.There are several young children on board the British ship. These child actors’ reactions to death and injuries are very touching and viewers can’t help but empathize with these boys. The British’s constant anticipation of attacking the French ship is another of the film’s greatest strengths. The clips of the Spanish ship, through the lens of a telescope, are dramatic.Some bloody segments are included, but since this is a PG-13 movie, the camera only provides short clips of these scenes. The film’s glimpses into too many minor characters are confusing and leave many questioned unanswered about them.Despite these flaws, this film is definitely worth seeing. The cinematography and acting are excellent. The film’s maintaining of suspense captivates viewers.