Russell Crowe is one of the most volatile celebrities in Hollywood, but also one of the most talented. His recent career has slowed from the late 90s and early 2000s onslaught of quality work, and Crowe himself seems to have softened in his middle age.
The Oscar winner, nominated three times in three years and winning the middle of the trifecta, has played scholars and thugs, lowlifes and heroes, and often times these idiosyncrasies blend into some wonderful performances. Here are ten essential Russell Crowe performances, before The Nice Guys hits theaters this weekend:
10. Capt. Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World – This Peter Weir high seas epic further shaped Russell Crowe as this generation’s Marlon Brando. While not a direct imitation of Mutiny on The Bounty, Master and Commander is a strong sea adventure (despite becoming a little aimless in the hefty midsection) pushed forward by Crowe’s Jack Aubrey, a man possessed and driven almost to the brink. And Crowe is certainly channeling the swashbuckling Fletcher Christian in a number of key moments.
9. Cal McAffrey, State of Play – Back in the spring of 2009, State of Play snuck into theaters and disappeared quickly, mostly because it’s a serious adult-oriented thriller based on a British TV series. And who has time for that? But Kevin MacDonald’s mature political drama was rife with great performances full of emotion and texture. And leading the charge of a cast including Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, and Ben Affleck, was Russell Crowe’s dogged reporter, Cal McAffrey.
8. Ben Wade, 3:10 to Yuma – One of the rare remakes to surpass the source material, James Mangold’s Western is a wonderful push and pull between the villain Crowe, and the man desperate to get him to the train on time, played by Christian Bale. This is Russell Crowe letting loose and adding some panache to what could have been an otherwise stock villainous character. He seems at home in the old west with his weary good looks and husky growl.
7. Noah, Noah – As problematic as Darren Aronofsky’s take on the Old Testament might be to devoted religious folk, there’s no denying the chutzpah Crowe brings to the central role. this is a complicated version of Noah, forever battling himself to understand what God is telling him to do, this father is nearly driven mad. Without Crowe to hold the center of the film into focus, Noah could have easily spun out of control. As it is, it’s a bit messy, but there’s still undeniable brilliance here.
6. Jim Braddock, Cinderella Man – The saccharine direction from Ron Howard does Cinderella Man no favors, but as downtrodden boxer and family man Jim Braddock, Russell Crowe feels right at home. With a little makeup and some heft, Crowe embodies the physicality of an early 20th-century prizefighter, and the riches to rags to riches narrative makes it one of the greatest crowdpleasers of the 2000s.
5. Richie Roberts, American Gangster – Ridley Scott’s true story about Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the mobster who almost singlehandedly ruined New York neighborhoods with an influx of heroin, is another one of Crowe’s better performances in a film that came and went too quietly. This is a terrific true-crime thriller, and Crowe’s Richie Roberts is a great antihero. Richie isn’t the best detective, and even a worse human being, but he somehow manages to pull through in the end.
4. John Nash, A Beautiful Mind – Ron Howard’s Best Picture winner has waned in popularity over the years, and there’s no denying the incredible historical inaccuracies with John Nash, genius mathematician and paranoid schizophrenic. Certain darker elements of the character were left out, and the factual threads are flimsy to say the least. However, given what IS in the role, Russell Crowe balances the madness and the quirk to perfection. He sells the role, o matter how problematic it may be in the end.
3. Bud White, LA Confidential – Crowe had been building towards stardom throughout the 90s, and LA Confidential was his breakout. As the heavy for a corrupt police captain in 50s Los Angeles, Crowe’s Bud White is all burning intensity and inner turmoil. We see time and time again, White trying to make human connections. And over and over he is let down. His current aggressive nature informs us of his troubled life and, probably, tumultuous childhood. It’s all there in Crowe’s brilliant performance.
2. Maximus, Gladiator – The role that earned Russell Crowe his Best Actor statue is a magnificent, epic turn. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss Gladiator these days – that’s what we’re good at it 2016 – but Ridley Scott’s film builds an incredible world full of rich characters. Crowe’s fallen hero is another riches to rags to riches story, or some variation of it, and his intensity is once again on full display.
1. Jeffrey Wigand, The Insider – Crowe’s performance as infamous whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand is like nothing the actor had (has) ever done. Soft and flabby, gray-haired, wearing coke-bottle glasses and an air of smug coldness, Wigand might be the hero we needed to call out big tobacco; but he’s not the greatest guy. Wigand is a complicated figure, a family man who struggles mightily to hold on to his wife and children, and Crowe’s intensity here is something altogether unique. It isn’t boiling anger, but sadness and despair. This is the role for which Crowe deserved Best Actor.