A Brief History of Russell Crowe Selecting Roles That Allow Him to Be Right While The Entire World Goes Wrong


Two-and-a-half months from now Paramount Pictures will release Noah, a modern retelling of the Old Testament flood story originally related via Genesis. Darren Aronofsky’s version will offer a feast for the eyes, all CGI grandeur and Clint Mansell score. What will remain mostly the same, however, is the assertion that Noah, a 600-year old patriarch (ala Yoda), maintained some telepathic link to God. God, eager for upheaval, imposed upon Noah to “make an ark,” thereby rendering the long-time artisan a kook. Following the deluge of mankind, Noah was proven a survivor – the unsung savior of our ecosystem.

Historically speaking, characters like Noah represent what’s known as Classic Crowe Bait – domineering reflections of an actor viewed as martyr. For years, the majority of Hollywood has regarded Russell Crowe as a brilliant-yet-intolerable phenom, a blowhard who spent the early aughts engaged in volatility. Through it all, Crowe’s irrepressible conceit has shone through, very often via the roles he’s chosen to pursue.

To wit (a chronological breakdown):

  • Jor-El Jor-El, Man of Steel (2013). According to the DC mythology, Jor-El was a revolutionary scientist, cast out after predicting the imminent destruction of his planet. Upon being proven correct, Jor-El launched his son, Kal-El, off to earth, where the boy went on to become an all-powerful messiah, begotten child of the almighty … Crowe.
  • Robin HoodRobin Longstride, Robin Hood (2010). Throughout the pre-publicity for Robin Hood, Russell Crowe (one of the film’s co-producers) insisted, “We took the attitude that whatever you think you knew about Robin Hood, that was a previously understandable mistake.” This is trademark Russell, condescending to a general public that’s almost always got it wrong. Crowe was desperately trying to reiterate this point during a BBC Radio interview when a journalist dared to question Robin’s accent. “You’ve got dead ears, man,” Crowe responded. “You’ve seriously got dead ears, if you think that sounds like an Irish accent.” Crowe walked out on the interview shortly after. Why? Because Russell Crowe should not be made to explain his Russell Crowe-ness to the masses.
  • M&C3Captain Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander (2003). Sometimes, the name just says it all. Aubrey, the captain of a British war ship, overcomes unseemly odds while disobeying orders, all in an attempt to force the surrender of a French privateer. Said capture could potentially turn the tide of Napoleon’s war, positively altering the course of military history. Aubrey uses a combination of complex battle tactics and ingenuity to force the eventual surrender of the much more powerful Acheron.
  • John Nash John Nash, A Beautiful Mind (2001). Professor Nash, a real-life Nobel Prize winner, is primarily known for Game Theory – a methodology for hedging bets that is still being applied to international economics, business, competition, technology and biology (among other things). For years Nash struggled to achieve credibility, due almost entirely to an ongoing battle with schizophrenia. Long-term, Professor Nash triumphed despite his condition, gaining more notoriety for the application of his theories than any other like-minded mathematician of his era.
  • Russell Crowe in GladiatorMaximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator (2000). A backstabbing despot who demands staunch allegiance? A decorated general denied his rightful throne? His family murdered? His freedom stolen? Forced into a violent life of servitude? Reborn a shackled hero to the everyman? Inspiring an uprising the likes of Thracian Spartacus? This sounds like a job for Russell Crowe. Gladiator was the role that catapulted Crowe into the stratosphere – box office dominance, an Oscar for Best Actor. Maximus became a reliable treadmill for the type of role Crowe would inhabit for several years to come.   
  • WigandJeffrey Wigand, The Insider (1999). Two years after a ferocious turn in L.A. Confidential, a 35-year old Crowe went man against the system. In this (mostly) factual account, Crowe’s character takes on Big Tobacco (with an assist from 60 Minutes). Wigand, initially denigrated for becoming a whistle blower, was ultimately vindicated once it was proven Brown & Williamson had, in fact, been manipulating blends to make its products more addictive.   

Taken as a cumulative body of work – along with Noah and an as-yet-to-be-released Crowe vehicle known as The Water Diviner – this list provides a window into the psyche of a narcissist. Crowe’s primary outlet remains acting … the ongoing portrayal of his own persecution. For Russell Crowe sees himself as sharing a similar burden with these characters, the tragic sense, perhaps, that he’s been too good for his time. It’s the only thing that keeps an acute egotist like Russell Crowe going – the possibility that, as Hugh Robert Orr once put it, “Time will declare [his] good, and prove [his] immortality.”

(Noah is scheduled to arrive in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 28th.)