Total Recall: Russell Crowe's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Robin Hood star.
One of a few actors blessed with the natural talent of a thespian and the pecs of an action star, Russell Crowe has spent the last 20 years racking up critical acclaim (including three Oscar nominations, one of which led to a Best Actor win) while building an eclectic resume filled with drama (A Beautiful Mind), action (Gladiator), and even a little romantic comedy (A Good Year). Critics may like to razz Crowe for his rock star dreams (not to mention the name of his old band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts) and his periodic public temper tantrums, but the fact is, he's amassed a surprisingly solid body of work. This weekend, Crowe puts his arrow-slinging and maiden-wooing skills to the test in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, and to celebrate, we're looking back at his best-reviewed films -- Total Recall style!
The swords 'n' sandals genre had been pretty well left for dead by the time Ridley Scott took the helm of Gladiator -- which might have something to do with why the project didn't exactly race on its way to the screen, and why the script bounced around between three credited writers and countless adjustments before it debuted in May of 2000. But all's well that ends well, and by the time audiences got their first glimpse of Russell Crowe as an unjustly enslaved Roman general, Gladiator had the look and feel of an Oscar winner. And win it did, piling up five Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe) and a whopping $457 million worldwide gross. As for the critics? Well, they liked it too -- including Jim Halverson of the Sacramento News & Review, who wrote, "Scott triumphantly transports us back to the Roman Empire circa 180 A.D. with a painter's eye for detail, a proven talent for manufacturing exotic realities (such as the future shock of Blade Runner) and a sweet tooth for utter spectacle."
Only a year after scoring his Best Actor Academy Award for Gladiator, Crowe resurfaced on Oscar ballots for his work in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, which dramatized the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a Nobel-winning economist whose struggles with schizophrenia have darkened a remarkable life. Though its historical accuracy was questioned, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was accused of cherry-picking details from Nash's life to make him a more sympathetic character, the result was still a film that grossed more than $300 million and earned four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as another Best Actor nomination for Crowe). As Bob Bloom of Lafayette Journal and Courier wrote, "A brilliant performance by Russell Crowe, who takes his audience on a terrifying journey inside a man tormented by self-created mental demons, propels A Beautiful Mind."
Crowe reunited with Ridley Scott for this sprawling, torn-from-the-headlines drama about Harlem-based heroin smuggler Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and his years-long struggle to evade the scrutiny of Richie Roberts, the relentless cop who dogged Lucas' operation. As Roberts, Crowe got to sink his teeth into an uncommonly complex character -- a guy whose unswerving honesty made him unpopular with his peers, but whose messy personal life belied a lack of honor and discipline that stood in stark contrast to his adversary's (admittedly screwy) moral code. Released in November 2007, American Gangster was expected to be a major Oscar contender, and though it mostly disappointed on that front, netting only two nominations (including Best Supporting Actress for Ruby Dee), Gangster was still a sizable hit, especially considering its two-and-a-half-hour length. In the words of Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News, "Ridley Scott packs the film with period detail and vivid, violent energy reminiscent of high-grade Scorsese, then mixes in a Lumet-like, keenly observed outrage at systemic corruption."
One good biopic deserves another, so Crowe and his A Beautiful Mind director, Ron Howard, reunited for another life story -- the tale of Depression-era heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, who was dubbed "The Cinderella Man" even before he overcame 10-to-1 odds and defeated Max Baer to claim his title. Surrounded by a top-shelf cast that included Renee Zellweger, Paddy Considine, and Paul Giamatti (who received one of the film's three Oscar nominations), Crowe embodied both the raw physicality and the inner struggle of a fighter who risked his health, and his marriage, to stay in the ring. Though Cinderella Man wasn't a Beautiful Mind-sized hit, it did break the $100 million mark -- and it earned the admiration of most critics, including Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, who wrote, "How exceptional a film actor is Russell Crowe? So exceptional that in Cinderella Man, he makes a good boxing movie feel at times like a great, big picture."
Times are tough for reporters in the real world, but in Hollywood, they're still good for the occasional hard-bitten thriller. Case in point: Kevin Macdonald's State of Play, which adapts the BBC miniseries about a reporter (Russell Crowe) investigating the death of a Capitol Hill staffer (Maria Thayer) who had been involved in an extramarital affair with a Congressman (Ben Affleck). Loaded with enough old-school intrigue to provoke a slew of All the President's Men comparisons, State of Play is the kind of thinking man's thriller that's all too rare these days (and with an $87 million gross against its $60 million budget, it's painfully easy to see why studios have lost interest). Even if audiences weren't in the mood for a political murder mystery, most critics were taken with Play, including Christopher Tookey of the Daily Mail, who wrote, "Even if you don't normally bother with movies, cheer yourself up by seeing this. There hasn't been a more engrossing or intelligent political thriller in the past three decades."