Russell Crowe – The Early Years

This post is prompted by Flix Chatter’s recent post, Russell Crowe Birthday Tribute: Top 10 Favorite Roles of the Aussie Thespian. Her Top 3 favorite Crowe roles are the same as mine:

  1. Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider (This is the one that deserved an Oscar; if you haven’t seen it, get thee to Netflix or whatever ASAP.)
  2. Maximus in Gladiator
  3. Bud White in L.A. Confidential

Her list brought to my mind the films that Crowe starred in before he got super-famous — relatively obscure Australian movies that didn’t win any major awards, yet were entertaining to watch, with the occasional interesting aspect to them. How do I know? Well, not that long ago, from around 1999 until 2005 or so, I was quite the fan of Crowe’s. Although I was nowhere near as dedicated as other admirers, I rented, borrowed or bought much of his early work. Sure, these films were 10 or more years old, but I had to see them. In those pre-Netflix days, before video was widely available online, this took some doing. Though lesser in both renown and production values, these movies did usually showcase Crowe’s talent and occasionally give insight into Australian society. Here’s a quick look at the ones I consider to have been most rewarding:

Crowe, Danielle Spencer, and Robert Mammone star in THE CROSSING
Crowe, Danielle Spencer, and Robert Mammone star in THE CROSSING

The Crossing (1990): Soapy love triangle starring Crowe as the main character’s former best friend and and Danielle Spencer as the former girlfriend. They met on this shoot and had an on-again, off-again relationship, before marrying and divorcing. Why you should bother: Crowe is darn good in it; it’s stunning really how much of his craft was already in place. Fun factoid: Director George Ogilvie paid to have Crowe’s broken front tooth replaced. (Update: Crowe and Spencer are not divorced, they are separated.)

Brides of Christ (1991): This miniseries from Australian television is about the teachers and students at a convent school in the 1960s. Crowe plays the boyfriend of the rebellious main character; their relationship is cut short when he gets drafted and sent to Vietnam. Why you should bother: Though it’s a dramatized version, BoC provides a glimpse of Australia’s social change and involvement in the Vietnam War, which I was not aware of previously. Other stars in the cast include Brenda Fricker as a nun and pre-fame Naomi Watts. Also Crowe does his own guitar playing and singing. Fun factoid: Though not that well-known in the U.S., female lead Kym Wilson is a big TV star in Oz. She starred in the Aussie indie Flirting with Watts and Nicole Kidman. I highly recommend this quirky little romance. Don’t be fooled by some of the DVD cover art you might see though; Wilson, Watts and Kidman are barely in it. The (perfect) leads are Noah Taylor and Thandie Newton.

For-The-Moment-DVDFor The Moment (1993): Crowe plays an Australian WWII airman stationed in Canada, in love with his girlfriend’s married sister, whose husband is fighting in Europe. Why you should bother: Potentially clichéd characters elevated by some interesting, great-ish performances. Crowe in uniform, reciting poetry. Fun factoid: This film was an American/Canadian production, filmed in Manitoba, Canada at actual Commonwealth airbases.

The Sum of Us (1994): I can’t do any better than this summary on IMDB: “A widowed father…is searching for ‘Miss Right,’ his son …is searching for ‘Mr. Right.'” It’s a character-based comedy-drama, the kind that doesn’t really get made all that often anymore, depicting a realistic family’s good and bad times. Why you should bother: Crowe’s non-stereotypical character’s orientation is pretty much accepted and no more commented on than, say, eye color, presenting a refreshing perspective. Plus insight into Australian Christmas. Fun factoid: Crowe had already worked with the actor who plays his dad, Jack Thompson, when the former was a 6-year-old extra on a TV show. Bonus video: From the soundtrack,”Better Be Home Soon” by Crowded House:

You can hear Crowe talk about these and a lot of his other films in one of my all-time favorite episodes of Inside the Actors’ Studio: