Russell Crowe is on the warpath in forthcoming thriller Unhinged, due for release on August 21. The film has clear echoes of Rutger Hauer cult classic The Hitcher, as Crowe's troubled loner stalks and torments a young mother (Caren Pistorius) after a traffic light altercation.
We all know that Crowe can command the screen and go off the deep end in explosive and arresting fashion. Yet he rarely plays bad guys. So, while we await this rare excursion into villainy for the New Zealand star, check out our blog list of essential Russell Crowe performances.
1. Romper Stomper (1992)
Crowe's breakthrough performance isn't easily forgotten. He plays a neo-Nazi, skinhead thug in this hard-hitting Aussie drama, showcasing that volatile screen persona some years before he arrived in Hollywood. Working with director Geoffrey Wright, Crowe fashions a complex character in the form of Hando, an unpredictable psycho who is, nevertheless, as much a victim of his own impulses as those he attacks. The film isn't easy viewing but reminds us of Crowe's ability to get beneath the skin of difficult individuals.
2. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Prior to this Oscar-winning James Ellroy adaptation, Crowe had dabbled in Hollywood movies (The Quick and the Dead et al). However, it was this film that cemented Crowe's burly, no-nonsense image in the minds of viewers. He plays Bud White, a Los Angeles cop with a particular aversion to wife beaters, who is drawn into a complex conspiracy alongside Guy Pearce's upright Ed Exley and Kevin Spacey's media-courting Jack Vincennes. Crowe's mixture of vulnerability and volatility is a pleasure to watch, his character subtly evolving into a more measured detective as director Curtis Hanson drinks in the rich backdrop of corruption and seediness in the City of Angels. In order to get into character, Crowe moved into a cramped apartment to better harness the sense of a trapped, rampaging, bear-like individual.
3. The Insider (1999)
Crowe's best performance? It has to be his subtle turn in this Michael Mann masterpiece, which adapts a real-life investigation into the machinations of the tobacco industry. Crowe bulks out as corporate whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, who is subsequently threatened by his former tobacco employers. Yet despite his bulk, Crowe brilliantly uses a nervy gaze and disquieting body language to give the essence of a man not quite at terms with himself, or his moral decisions. When you can steal the show from Al Pacino, playing Wigand's media confidante Lowell Bergman, you know you've done a good job, and indeed Crowe received his first Oscar nomination for the movie.
4. Gladiator (2000)
Crowe nabbed the Best Actor Oscar for this stirring Roman epic, his first collaboration with director Ridley Scott. Gladiator is a notably convincing and engrossing immersion in ancient history, with Scott pulling out all the visual tricks, including layers of CGI replication during the colosseum scenes to create teeming hordes baying for blood. Of course, the real reason why it hits hard is Crowe himself, who again perfects the stoic yet wounded individual seeking redemption. His character Maximus' quest to seek revenge for his family's murder, carried out at the hands of scheming Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) gives a genuine emotional pull amidst the spectacular action sequences.
5. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Crowe has also formed a working partnership with director Ron Howard, and their first collaboration was this emotive drama. It's based on the true story of schizophrenic mathematician John Nash, played by Crowe on suitably frazzled form, which just about skirts the 'give me an Oscar for playing a troubled genius' performance. In truth, the sincerity and conviction of Crowe's performance helps deflect cynicism, particularly in the scenes with Jennifer Connelly (who did win an Oscar) as Nash's devoted wife Alicia. Watch out, also, for the first pairing between Crowe and Paul Bettany, more on which momentarily.
6. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
It's a crying shame that Peter Weir's nautical epic, adapted from the first of author Patrick O'Brien's novels, never got a sequel. Because the film's sheer sense of windswept scale, married with rich character interactions, is tailor-made for further big screen adventures. Crowe delivers one of his best performances as Captain 'Lucky' Jack Aubrey, commander of 19th-century warship the Surprise who is locked in brutal conflict with French vessel the Acheron. Crowe delivers the goods in terms of conveying Jack's authority, but he also reveals subtle warmth in the delightful scenes shared with Paul Bettany, playing the ship's doctor and botanist Stephen Maturin. And yes, the actors really did learn to play the violin and cello for the movie. Might we hope for a follow-up eventually?
7. Cinderella Man (2005)
In his second collaboration with Ron Howard, Crowe does what he does best: adopt the mantle of a burly real-life underdog hero who strives to better himself. Cinderella Man is based on the true story of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock, a New Jersey pugilist who vows to provide for his family in any way he can. Crowe is far more tender and sympathetic here than usual, effectively conveying the essence of a man who is down for the count but not out completely. And, of course, he sells himself admirably in the boxing sequences. Crowe recently revealed that he pushed co-star Paul Bettany for an Oscar nomination after Al Pacino performed Crowe the same favor on The Insider.
8. 3:10 To Yuma (2007)
It was back to villainy for Crowe in this robust Western remake from James Mangold (Logan). Superior to the original Glenn Ford/Van Heflin original, this tale of outlaw justice applies juicy notes of moral doubt amidst the pistol-toting action, as Christian Bale's struggling farmer must deliver Crowe's notoriously dangerous outlaw to the prison train at Yuma. It's the psychological give-and-take between the two men that really compels, as each learns the nuances and complexities of the other. There's also a scene where Crowe gets to kill counter-culture icon and movie legend Peter Fonda, one of many memorable moments in a gripping frontier adventure.
9. American Gangster (2007)
Crowe's second film of 2007 sees him operating on the different side of the law from 3:10 To Yuma. Set in the 1970s, American Gangster recaps the rise-and-fall story of notorious African-American gangster Frank Lucas, played in suitably imposing fashion by Denzel Washington. Crowe is excellent as tenacious cop Richie Roberts, the New Yorker who is determined to bring Lucas' operation down to the ground. Directed by Ridley Scott, American Gangster absorbs all the period detail one would expect, but reserves its true joy for the Heat-style final showdown between Washington and Crowe.
10. The Nice Guys (2016)
Crowe doesn't have much of a reputation for light comedy. However, this riotously funny Shane Black offering crafts wonderful chemistry from the collaboration between Crowe and Ryan Gosling. It's the classic chalk and cheese, straight man/funnyman partnership, with Crowe's imposing presence and wry delivery meshing perfectly with Gosling's hysterical sense of physical timing. They play mismatched private investigators, variously brutish and bumbling, on the trail of a porn conspiracy in 1970s Los Angeles. Although Gosling steals the show, one must give Crowe his dues for keeping a straight face.
11. Boy Erased (2018)
Director Joel Edgerton coaxes an impressively nuanced performance from Crowe in this anguished drama, which covers the horrendous subject of American gay conversion camps. Young Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) delivers another impressive performance as the teenager sent by his devout parents to the aforementioned camp, where they hope he can be 'cured' of his gay impulses. Crowe plays the father torn between his religious convictions and the love for his son, in a powerful turn that has echoes of his more introverted, measured appearance in The Insider.
12. True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)
Crowe only makes a brief appearance in this revisionist Outback saga, but it's a memorable and important one. 1917's George MacKay is an animalistic force of nature as Ned Kelly, the infamous Aussie outlaw whose violent escapades and eventual demise went down in history. Crowe is bear-like and bearded as the impassive mentor who teaches young Ned the value of surviving in the wilderness, not to mention a facility with guns.