Russell Crowe did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Master and Commander is a curious special joy for me as every time I watch the film I always somehow seem to forget just how good it is before watching the film again.
Now despite the film's great success with the Oscars overall it received no acting notices, Paul Bettany's snub being altogether mind boggling, but Crowe has seemingly been on the Oscar blacklist ever since his BAFTA altercation in 2002. Then again it may be that Crowe's performance is one that is easy to take for granted, I did that myself when I somehow failed to find him a spot in my alternate lineup, a lineup which included Tommy Wiseau. Why is that though? Well this performance is perhaps not what one might expect just hearing Russell Crowe playing a naval captain, but of course that's what makes this such a marvelous piece of work in all truth. One the great successes of Master and Commander is how vivid life on the ship feels. A great contributor to that is Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey which again just the idea of Crowe as a naval Captain would suggest maybe a more directly intense performance, that is not the case nor is that a problem. Jack Aubrey is of course not a Captain Bligh, or even a Captain Vere, he's a different sort of man, a better sort of man.
Crowe's performance here is atypical and almost the opposite of those performances in which he made his name such as The Insider, L.A. Confidential or Gladiator, where he portrayed a dark determination. There is determination but Crowe does not use it to define the man. What Crowe uses to define him is the idea of Aubrey as this Captain during the Napoleonic wars. Now what I mean by that is Crowe does not define his Captain as only a man of battles. We are introduced in an attack, a surprise attack where Crowe conveys the visceral quality of that moment but he does not dwell upon longer than the battle lasts. Crowe portrays Aubrey as being particularly attentive to what happened in the attack beyond that his French foe got the better of him. As Aubrey examines the ship and most importantly learns of the casualties among the crew there is an essential concern that Crowe brings to every step of Aubrey's duty. Crowe does not gloss over a moment of the process as he brings an needed devotion of a Captain who truly cares for his ship and every crew member aboard it although not in the same exact way though this is just part of the unassuming complexity of Crowe's work here.
Crowe of course brings the strong old school presence as usual, Crowe has the right awareness of that though here, in that his performance uses that knowledge to the point that he doesn't need to attempt to amplify it for Aubrey. Crowe's method here makes Aubrey particularly distinctive in the film and I love the way Crowe simply is in charge. There is no effort required, he is the Captain. This though again is not where it stops for Crowe's work though. He is not just the Captain for the duration of his appearance in the film, but rather Crowe's portrayal evokes the years on the ship. This is seen within basically everything that Crowe does onscreen. There is that ease he portrays in his surroundings as Crowe shows Aubrey move around the ship as it were his home on land. Crowe manages to capture this very exact sentimentalism of sorts just in the way he looks upon certain facets. Crowe brings what is a joy in the experience of being on the ship and enjoying what it is. Crowe importantly shows that Aubrey loves this experience of being Captain as well, which extends even further to his whole life which has been in the Navy. Crowe exhibits a man who owns the ship, but also shares it with all those within it as well.
There is his relationship with every member of his crew. The strongest focus of course being with Paul Bettany's Doctor Stephen Maturin, but more on that later. There is also his relationships with each of his officers each which vary through so strongly through Crowe's performance as he realizes Aubrey's relation with each man separately. With the very young Lord William Blakeney (Max Pirkins) Crowe reveals the utmost earnest warmth of a father, though with a distinct ounce of respect to one of his crew members. There is even his seemingly future Captains, of Lieutenant Pullings (James D'Arcy) and Midshipman Calamy (Max Benitz) where Crowe crafts a differentiation through his slight variation in manner to each. He offers each man the respect of a true comrade but there is a greater simplicity with Pulligns treating him as a man just about at his level whereas Crowe offers the manner of a teacher towards Calamy to aim him towards bettering himself as an officer. There is also the far more problematic relationship with Midshipman Hollom (Lee Ingleby). Crowe is brilliant in his direct interaction with Hollom, as he portrays the held in greater frustrations in the Captain over Hollom's inability to fulfill his duty. Crowe shows Aubrey hides though in an attempt to offer his encouragement in hopes the man will become a better officer.
Crowe is quite different yet so naturally so in his portrayal of Aubrey towards the crew. This is quite the fascinating juxtaposition actually as he very carefully offers similair sentiments but in a different way from the officers to the rest of the crew. Crowe does bring a warmth towards every member of the crew particularly in their successes but he does this with a certain distance. He offers a somewhat less personal delivery and manner. He doesn't become a machine but he does always set the Captain apart. This is an interesting trick which Crowe pulls off flawlessly as he delivers the praise in a more generalized way and even when he specifies it is of this greater commander rather than a friend. He sets himself apart so effectively as he shows the man who knows his duty needs this separation, but still a connection. Crowe creates that connection that makes the Captain more than just a man around the crew, in that he is this specific inspiration to them all. Crowe is outstanding as he captures a Aubrey as being successfully the legend of Lucky Jack when he commands his crew in pivotal moments whether it is saving the ship or preparing for a battle. Crowe's manner has this certain grandeur and undeniable charisma as his words carry such a rousing spirit to the point that you'd feel any man worth a salt would follow Aubrey into battle.
There is yet another side to Aubrey in his friendship with Doctor Maturin. Crowe and Bettany have the truly effortless chemistry of lifelong friends and there is a certain magic in just the slightest interaction such as the fun the two have together when playing strings together. Crowe though is terrific though showing a greater vulnerability in Aubrey in his scenes with Maturin, as in this he reveals the way Aubrey carefully extends himself for this most personal counsel. Crowe and Bettany show the men who see each other exactly as they are and even in their arguments there is always the underlying concern for one another. The two are great in the way they make this relationship so genuine that so much can be unsaid in terms of both performances. When Aubrey denies Maturin wish to explore the Galapagos islands, Crowe face remarks his own disappointment in not being able to help his friend even as he speaks the order to deny him, however later on as he states the order to grant the wish again Aubrey never says it's just for him yet there is such unconditional love in the more officially worded order. Both actors realize this relationship so well that you can predict exactly how they will interact with another given any situation because it feels that you just know who they are as friends.
Now Crowe manages the different sides to Aubrey with such a certain perfection in that he never depicts it as this purposeful method of the man, but rather how the man has come to be from his life in the Navy. He's learned how to be a proper Captain, and exactly what it takes. What is so remarkable is how every facet flows from one to next while always being the single man that is Captain Jack Aubrey. Crowe by achieving this amplifies so much of the film by how vivid he makes everything Aubrey is going through. This leads to such powerful moments through Crowe's performance even though the emphasis isn't always squarely on him given director Peter Weir's careful eye to not ignore any facet of the ship and those aboard. There is not a wasted second as you know who Aubrey is precisely through Crowe's portrayal of him. In a moment where he makes sacrifice one man to save the ship, there is not a great deal of time spent on revealing the anguish yet it is all there in Crowe's reaction the reflects the difficulty of the act. When Maturin is injured in an accident, Crowe is deeply affecting through his subtle yet so poignant depiction of Aubrey seeing his wounded best friend. There is even two separate funeral scenes which could seem redundant yet they are not in the least, with part of the reason being Crowe. The first Crowe in the few words he says offers the pathos as his call upon Aubrey thinking to his own failure, and his delivery of the words are that of apology as much as they are of remembrance. The second though Crowe offers a more exact approach fulfilling wholly the role of the Captain. It is something he's done before, but Crowe puts no cruelty within this fact just instead infusing the words with the respect the Captain should offer to his fallen men. This is not a performance about a single moments but every moment. Crowe's work simply allows us to be with this extraordinary man, learn exactly who is as a person, as a friend, as, well, a master and commander.