The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Russell Crowe
Last week, we took a look at the career of actor-director-Sundance head honcho Robert Redford, a man whose career we could easily define as heroic. This week's subject is heroic in his own way, as one of the few actors around that can anchor a type of movie the studios seem reluctant to make nowadays (unless he's the star)...
Years ago, comedian Chris Rock made a nasty joke at the Oscars about how several leading men who attempted to anchor historical movies paled in comparison to Russell Crowe. The joke was controversial, but there was some truth to it. There's no other leading man out there that can anchor a historical epic like Crowe. He's a throwback to actors like Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Robert Mitchum, Richard Harris, etc. The kind of man's man you can't take your eyes off of, and whose personality can anchor something truly larger than life the way very few modern actors can. Crowe's recent NOAH is the perfect example. Could any other modern actor have pulled that off?
However, to pigeonhole Crowe in his historical epics is somewhat unfair. He's had success in plenty of genres, garnering an Oscar nomination for A BEAUTIFUL MIND, and generating tons of acclaim in roles as varied as CINDERELLA MAN, AMERICAN GANGSTER, L.A CONFIDENTIAL. Yes, all of those are technically period pieces, but he shows off an impressive range. He even looked pretty good in the far-out Kryptonian fantasy sequences in MAN OF STEEL. What does Crowe bring to all of those parts? Gravitas. I'm hard pressed to think of any other performer out there that can compare to Crowe in that regard.
This is a close call. Crowe happens to be the star of two of my all-time favorite movies – L.A CONFIDENTIAL and GLADIATOR. While I think L.A CONFIDENTIAL is probably the better movie (by a hair) GLADIATOR is probably Crowe's best part. As Maximus, the Roman general turned enslaved gladiator, Crowe is downright iconic. While it wasn't his first great part (he'd been previously nominated for an Oscar for THE INSIDER, not to mention ROMPER STOMPER and L.A CONFIDENTIAL) it made him a star and won him a richly deserved Academy Award. It's rare a performance in such an action-packed blockbuster is rewarded by the Academy, but Crowe's performance could not be overlooked. He's extraordinary. On a side-note, despite the film's ending, there was almost a GLADIATOR sequel, and a full script by Nick Cave exists that sees Maximus risen from the grave by the Roman Gods to do battle with the Christians, who he ends up joining. In the end, he's cursed and becomes a kind of God of war, ending on a shot of him in the modern-day Pentagon. It's a wild but incredible scripts, and it's a shame it hasn't been made. It's never too late!
While Crowe's had some films that were more successful than others, and has acted in his share of flops, it's tough to call anything that he's been in overrated. One movie that could be called that is ROBIN HOOD, even though it got a rather lukewarm reception by the critics. While the North American box-office was cool, the movie was an international blockbuster. Watching it now, it feels like too much of an effort to recapture the GLADIATOR magic, right down to Crowe's haircut. It's pretty bleak take on the Robin Hood mythos, and it can't be denied that both Crowe and the great Cate Blanchett (as Maid Marian) were too old for their parts. I imagine that if the movie had been made in its original version, NOTTINGHAM, that apparently would have seen Crowe cast as the anti-heroic Sheriff, it would have been much better. As it is, it's still a good movie, but far from a great one.
One movie of Crowe's that I absolutely adore is 3:10 TO YUMA. Directed by James Mangold, it's an epic remake of the classic Western, casting Crowe as a charismatic outlaw being escorted to a prison train by a desperate farmer (a great Christian Bale). It was buried in an early September release date back in 2007, and was only a middling success at the box office. That's a tough fact to understand, as it's pretty damn superb, and Crowe's performance is excellent with him veering back and forth between being a cold-blooded murderer and a kind of anti-hero. If you haven't seen this one, it's well worth checking out. Other noteworthy but unfairly ignored Crowe movies include ROMPER STOMPER, an early heroic part in Sam Raimi's THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, the uneven-but-decent PROOF OF LIFE and his menacing turn in the dated-but-fun VIRTUOSITY.
I'm tempted to put in any of the scenes in L.A CONFIDENTIAL where Crowe's Bud White goes nuts at the sight of a woman in jeopardy, but it can't be denied that the “I am GLADIATOR” scene is the one we'll all remember him by.
Fresh from the success of NOAH, Crowe's got a few movies in the works, including an intriguing World War I film called THE WATER DIVINER, which he's also directing.