Aussies have long been fond of sneakily claiming successful Kiwis as their own, see Crowded House and Kimbra for musical examples and Phar Lap when it comes to not-actually-Australian wonder horses, but quite why we ever got all territorial over actor and sometime rubbish rock star Russell Crowe I’ll never know.
He’s back on our big screens again in an early contender for one of this, or any, year’s worst films, Winter’s Tale. Pitched as a contemporary fairy tale of New York, the tag line’s enough to have me gagging. “This is not a true story. This is true love,” hence the opportunistically mercenary Valentine’s Day release date.
As with any of his previous attempts to master an accent other than Kiwistralian, the Irish brogue of his demonic hard man Pearly Soames, in the employ of Will Smith’s Lucifer (yes, really) is pretty diabolical. His complete lack of screen presence and over-reliance on facial gurning hardly helps.
I’ll never understand the popularity of 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, penned by one of Hollywood’s worst hacks, Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote and directed Winter’s Tale, as well as the screenplay for Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.
It could have gone so differently, or perhaps the mists of time are deceiving us. Following an obligatory early career turn with Erinsborough’s finest, Neighbours, where those persistent Aussie fantasies were no doubt born, Crowe’s first performance of note in a career not exactly littered with them was as white supremacist skinhead Hando in Geoffrey Wright’s hyper-violent Romper Stomper (1992).
His admittedly impressive turn didn’t convince David Stratton, of David & Margaret fame, who gave the film zero stars as he was worried it actually promoted the neo-Nazi gang’s behaviour. This prompted a furious Wright to hurl a glass of red wine over Stratton’s pristine cream suit at the Venice Film Festival two years later. For the record, Margaret gave it five out of five, and it is a cracking flick, if not for the faint of heart.
After a run of largely forgettable Aussie indies (saving The Sum of Us), the early promise of Romper Stomper led to another impressive turn as LA Confidential’s tough justice copper Wendell ‘Budd’ White in the hard-boiled noir adapted from James Ellroy’s novel of the same name by writer/director Curtis Hanson. Hanson took a risk casting such a relative unknown, especially alongside fellow Neighbours alumni and not actually Aussie Guy Pearce (he’s a Brit) as the cool and calculating detective lieutenant Edmund J. Exley, but it paid off.
Anyone who thought Crowe would stick to his artsy roots was probably blindsided by his starring role as credit card Maximus in 2000’s cheesy CGI-fest Gladiator. Already infamous as the last cinematic role of the late, great Oliver Reed (they had to use some computer trickery to complete his unfinished scenes, as will no doubt happen with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay two-parter) it catapulted Crowe to Hollywood hackdom, with mums globally flushing over his leather-clad rabble rouser; the last time he was the right side of chunky. Ridiculously, he won the Best Actor Oscar over Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Javier Bardem and Geoffrey Rush.
This leap for action glory marked a notable slide in career choices, with one bad turn after another skidding off with the implausible and leaden Proof of Life (2000) with Crowe faking Aussie again as hostage negotiator Terry Thorne. Ooh, spikey, except for the lame crisis of conscience that sees him return to a dreary Meg Ryan’s side, having previously abandoned her and her kidnapped husband because the insurance money fell through.
I’ll never understand the popularity of 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, penned by one of Hollywood’s worst hacks, Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote and directed Winter’s Tale, as well as the screenplay for Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. Need I say more? Nevertheless, A Beautiful Mind scooped four Oscars, including one for Goldsman’s screenplay and a Best Supporting Actress stature for Crowe’s Winter’s Tale co-star Jennifer Connelly, but no Best Actor win for Crowe himself.
Other duffers include, but are not limited to, A Good Year (2006), Tenderness (2007), Body of Lies (2008), a dreadfully misguided attempt at live-action ‘singing’ in last year’s Les Misérables and a supremely smug turn as Superman’s Kryptonian dad who just refuses to stay dead in Man of Steel. From the looks of the trailers, and many a disastrous rumbling from on-set, Noah’s not going to change our opinion any time soon. Crowe’s career is sunk, or at least it should be.
Stephen A. Russell is a Melbourne arts critic. Do you agree with him? Let us know below.