Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is one of the rare movies that are brimming with directorial confidence, but not
arrogance.  Director Peter Weir knows exactly what he wants to achieve with this film and exactly how to do it, from the engaging action
sequences to the strong character drama. But instead of feeling the need to throw his genius and creativity in our face like say Quentin
Tarentino sometimes does, Weir proves his talent to the audience with his clear vision and focus.

The film follows the adventures of Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey of the British Navy, solidly portrayed by the always-reliable Russell Crowe.

As the film opens, Aubrey and crew encounter a French warship off the coast of South America. The ship outmaneuvers, outguns, and
outsmarts the British Frigate before seemingly disappearing into a fog.

This opening sequence easily ranks as one of the best of the year as it so quickly and effectively sets in motion the rest of the story. It also
shows off the superb visual effects works by Asylum and Industrial Light and Magic.

The remainder of the movie consists of pursuing the mysterious French ship. Little of the movie takes place on land, and none outside of
the British crew. Of course, in this ruthless pursuit of a superior enemy, conflict emerges among the crew.

Paul Bettany plays the ship doctor, who acts as Aubrey's middleman to the feelings of the crew and in many ways, his conscience. Despite
all the ship politics, the film manages to always keep the main plot in the foreground. There is very little "fat" in this movie. Every scene
exists for a good reason, be it advancing the plot or deepening character development.

Peter Weir directs this movie with respect for his audience. He has not dumbed down the film to appeal to a broader mainstream audience.
Master and Commander does have a few problems though. The musical score is a bit uninspired and repetitive. Also, there is a revelation
at the end of the film that should have been played up a bit more dramatically. But that aside, Master and Commander is a wonderfully
involving movie that is deserving of the recognition it has received.

* * * 1/2
(out of four)
MASTER AND COMMANDER:
THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD
Directed by: Peter Weir

Written by: Peter Weir & John Collee

Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy,
Edward Woodall, Chris Larkin, Max Pirkis

Cinematography by: Russell Boyd

Music by: Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, Richard
Tognetti

Released: November 14, 2003; 138 Minutes