A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World features prolonged and intense battle violence and graphic scenes of surgery; bloody wounds of both adults and children are visible, too. Crew members are shown being shot, whipped, and committing suicide, too. Drinking is frequent (even among young officers) and adults smoke cigars and pipes. Occasional words like "hell" and "Goddamn" are audible, as are a few sexist remarks. All of this is offered in context, and is balanced with strong messages about loyalty, friendship, and duty to one's country.
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What's the story?
In MASTER AND COMMANDER, Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is captain the H.M.S. Surprise, a tall ship in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. His orders are to "sink, burn, or take as a prize" a French ship called the Acheron. When the Acheron attacks, many of Aubrey's crew are injured or killed and his ship is badly damaged. Aubrey must chart a new course on many levels. The Acheron is more powerful and he must lead his crew into battle against a daunting enemy, knowing that many will be wounded or killed. Aubrey is a good captain. He treats the men with dignity, kindness, and respect. But he understands that they need him to be a leader, not a friend, and that sometimes requires discipline and distance. Aubrey's nickname is "Lucky Jack." He knows that when he is in command of a group of boys and men a long way from home, it helps if they believe that he is lucky as well as wise. But that means he has to stay lucky.
Is it any good?
Co-screenwriter/director Peter Weir has delivered a respectful but exciting film based on two of Patrick O'Brien's hugely popular books. He's clearly aiming for a thoughtful and intelligent action film for grown-ups, and comes pretty close. The action scenes are exceptionally well-staged and detailed, putting the audience in the middle of the battles. The action is balanced with a strong, classically structured story of the friendship between Aubrey and the ship's doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany).
Aubrey is a man of action who gives and follows orders while Maturin is a man of science who believes that battles are tragic distractions from the pursuit of knowledge to make the world a better place. Their two perspectives provide balance as they struggle with their duties. All of the performances are exceptionally strong and Crowe is splendid as Aubrey. Weir has succeeded in making a film that is true to O'Brien's books, utterly respectful of the history but all about the story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Dr. Maturin says that "the deaths in actual battle are the easiest to bear." Would Aubrey agree?
Talk about life at sea. What do you think it was like to live for weeks on end on a ship far away from home? How did people at sea find fresh water? Food other than fish? How did they get mail?
- In theaters: November 14, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: April 20, 2004
- Cast: James D'Arcy, Paul Bettany, Russell Crowe
- Director: Peter Weir
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense battle sequences, related images and brief language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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