Saturday, May 15, 2010

Russell Crowe's finest performance? (Hint: It's not Gladiator)


Mike Baldwin

Russell Crowe is one of a kind.

The New Zealand-born movie star made his first splash in Hollywood with a compelling performance in director Jocelyn Moorhouse's 1992 black comedy, Proof. Nine years later, Crowe won a best actor Academy Award for his gritty portrayal of Maximus in Gladiator. The film claimed four more Oscars, including best picture, and made Crowe an A-list superstar.

Crowe has since evolved into a perennial Oscar contender whose only issues stemmed from public relations nightmares related to the occasional outburst. Nonetheless, he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010. But the most intriguing fact about Crowe's career may be that his finest performance came one year prior to Gladiator. None of Crowe's performances in the past decade match up to his tremendous role in Michael Mann's 1999 Oscar-nominated masterpiece, The Insider.

Crowe earned his first Oscar nomination in the Mann picture, playing Jeffrey Wigand in a true story about one man's determination to expose the tobacco industry on the CBS news show, 60 Minutes. Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer also provide inspired supporting performances, but it's Crowe's merciless persistence that makes the movie truly special. Crowe is exceptional when playing Wigand as an individual mentally anguished by an internal battle between right and wrong.

Wigand, a former tobacco executive at Brown & Williamson, quickly discovers his integrity comes at a heavy price with his family and livelihood hanging in the balance. Crowe flawlessly channels the anger, disgust, suspense, and fear behind his character's attempt to blow the whistle on "big tobacco." The actor is meticulous when executing every aspect of Wigand's most troubling moments onto screen, which are both unsettling and inspiring. It's Crowe who eloquently conveys the film's message through the development of Wigand's character. In the end, you're treated with a remarkable story highlighted by Crowe's work. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times praised the film:
Able to match him stride for stride is the virtuoso Australian actor Crowe. Known to art-house viewers for his award-winning roles in that country's "Proof" and "Romper Stomper," Crowe's ability to project internal complexity electrified a wider audience as the love of Kim Basinger's life in "L.A. Confidential."
A powerhouse actor who joins an old-fashioned masculine presence with an unnerving ability to completely disappear inside a role, Crowe not only has made himself look like Wigand, he even duplicates the complex personality journalist Brenner described as "prickly, isolated and fragile. . . . There's a wary quality in his face, a mysterious darkness."
There's certainly no doubt about Crowe's talent after his illustrious stretch of blockbuster films in the past 15 years. From L.A. Confidential to Robin Hood, Crowe remains a vital actor who fails to shy away from the gleaming Hollywood limelight. His films have entertained mass audiences around the globe, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts. However, his most profound performance was the portrayal of a tormented man on the verge of making history. His most notable scenes in The Insider include emotional bouts with Pacino's character, Lowell Bergman, the producer for 60 Minutes who endures the ongoing struggle with Wigand to reveal the truth.

Crowe's characters are frequently characterized asfuming, committed heroes who raise the stakes. Personally, my favorite Crowe character is Bud White from L.A. Confidential. But prior to his Oscar moment and years of continued success, Crowe embraced a demanding role, which carried high expectations in accurately painting the portrait of a conflicted man in the midst of informing millions of people about the consequences associated with tobacco.

It's a true underdog story of one man versus greed and deception. And Crowe aces the role with flying colors.

The theatrical trailer for "The Insider":


Mindy Goorchenko said...

I love Russell Crowe as John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind." I don't remember if I've seen "The Insider" or not...I'll put it in my queue and report back. :) But John Nash at least deserves a mention in your blog, so here it is.

Vincenzo said...

I've seen A Beautiful Mind - I hadn't thought of that film in a while. The Insider was very good, he really became the character and appeared much older. I even forgot I was watching Russell Crowe, a testament to his acting skill.