Crowe Confidential

by John DeSouza

Five minutes into L.A. Confidential we get our first glimpse of Russell Crowe. The unflinching gaze, the watery blue eyes that can be stone cold one minute then painfully vulnerable the next. The square set jaw, the thick bull neck, the deeply-furrowed forehead. It's the same look he's endowed all his characters. From the sweetly hesitant gay son in The Sum of Us to the disillusioned journalist in Rough Magic, Crowe has consistently delivered standout performances.

Unfortunately for him, no-one -- save the art-house set -- knows who he is. However, things may be changing for him. His Hollywood studio film L.A. Confidential is a sleeper hit and already whispers of 'Oscar' have begun to make their rounds. So instead of people going, 'Russell, who?', they're now saying, 'Oh! The next Mel Gibson.'

Unlike Gibson, Crowe is an AUSTRALIAN actor -- both in terms of citzenship and loyalty. While Mel has gone off to Hollywood and now refuses to comment on the small-budget Aussie movies that got him noticed in the first place, Crowe's main ambition is to get enough international recognition so that he can finance and produce Australian films that will be able to ride on his name. More importantly, the main difference is that Crowe is a star on the rise who can act while Mr. Gibson's 'Weapon' isn't so 'Lethal' anymore.

While Crowe may be infinitely more talented, he's also infinitely more enigmatic. He's been described as everything from difficult to charming, while his reports of him being boorish and a relentless perfectionist only add to his seemingly contradictory image. Stories of his friction with The Quick and the Dead co-star Gene Hackman (resulting from his daily comments on how he hated permed hair) stand beside L.A. Confidential's Kim Basinger's gushing remarks to husband Alec Baldwin on how charming and sweet Crowe is. Then there's the all-time favourite Crowe anecdote. On the set of the Australian movie Proof, Crowe is said to have seduced a young ingenue in his trailer. Passers-by who knew what Crowe was up to swear they heard him shouting 'Go, Russ,go!' at the top of his lungs during the act.

Most agree, though, that Crowe has Talent. Not bad, considering he received no formal education in dramatic arts. His family, originally New Zealanders, were movie caterers and so the family led a nomadic life moving from set to set. At age six, Crowe got his first acting job. He had one line of dialogue to deliver to venerable Australian actor, Jack (Breaker Morant) Thompson. The two would team up again in 1994 for The Sum of Us. Instead of attending a drama college, Crowe worked odd jobs. If he wasn't waiting on tables at Sydney restaurants, he could be found busking on street corners in town. On a lark, he formed a rock band called '30 Odd Foot of Grunts' with three friends. The Grunts' two albums show them to be a lot better than other actor outfits like the Bacon Brothers Band or P (Johnny Depp's band).

His big break came in 1991 with Proof. As the victimized dishwasher Jeff[sic], Crowe got his first Australian Film Institute Award. Other films soon followed, but there's only so far he could get working in that industry. Luckily for him, Sharon Stone had noticed and cast him in her next flick, The Quick and the Dead. While the title aptly sums the film's success, it did lead to bigger and better things for Crowe. One of which is L.A. Confidential. His portrayal of Officer Bud White is the culmination of his decade-long career. While his other roles may have been marred by a touch of ham and his choice of film roles have been a tad questionable, Crowe's right on target here. The performance is practically flawless, balancing rage with tenderness, cruelty with vulnerability and physicality with emotion and adds up to another entry on his already impressive resume.