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Career Watch: Will ‘Noah’ Prove a Blessing for Russell Crowe?

Photo of Susan Wloszczyna By Susan Wloszczyna | Thompson on Hollywood March 31, 2014 at 1:48PM

Russell Crowe has often proved his own worst enemy over the years, but "Noah" proves that he's still a major movie star. Can he get out of his own way?
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Russell Crowe in 'Les Miserables'
Russell Crowe in 'Les Miserables'
Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck in "State of Play"
Universal Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck in "State of Play"

Latest misfire: Even some "Les Miserables" fanatics haven’t forgiven Crowe for his rumbly-grumbly singing  style – the kinder among his detractors described it  as being “pub-voiced” --  as the self-righteous Inspector Javert  in 2012’s divisive film version of the Tony-winning Broadway musical. But at least he appeared in his first best-picture Oscar candidate since 2003. Such ho-hum action pics as 2012’s "The Man With the Irons Fists" and "The Next Three Days" mainly provided Crowe with a paycheck but little else. But one should probably point to this year’s romantic fantasy "Winter’s Tale" – which boasts the actor’s lowest-ranking title on the Rotten Tomatoes site with just a 14% approval rating. He rightfully earned critical debit marks as Pearly Soames, a demonic gangland boss with a barely coherent Irish accent.

Biggest problem:  At the height of his fame a decade ago, a hot-headed Crowe was prone to public eruptions. It’s a habit that caused him to reveal to Inside the Actors Studio’s James Lipton during a TV interview in 2004 that his three least-favorite words are “Hollywood Bad Boy.” Between 1999 and 2005, he made headlines for several incidents. In 1999, he got into a fight at a hotel in Coffs Harbour, Australia, that was picked up by a security camera. Two men were acquitted of charges of trying to blackmail him. At the 2002 BAFTA awards ceremony, Crowe reamed out a TV producer for editing out a poem he recited in honor of the actor Richard Harris, who was terminally ill. Although he won an award for "A Beautiful Mind" that night, some believe his outburst caused him to lose the Oscar to Denzel Washington in "Training Day." Most infamously, he was arrested and charged in 2005 with second-degree assault in New York City after he threw a phone at a Mercer Hotel employee when he wouldn’t help the actor place a call. The news media descended, shooting pictures taken during a perp walk after his arrest. Crowe described the event as “possibly the most shameful situation that I’ve gotten myself into.” He pleaded guilty and settled the lawsuit filed by the concierge involved.

Gossip fodder: It’s hard to recall the fuss over Crowe’s affair with Meg Ryan –  a relationship often portrayed in the press as the despoiling of America’s rom-com sweetheart – while they filmed 2000’s "Proof of Life." Although a check of Ryan’s resume suggests that her career suffered more from their association together – she divorced her husband of 10 years, actor Dennis Quaid, in 2001 – while the then-single Crowe continued to soar professionally. He would wed his longtime on-again, off-again love, Australian singer Danielle Spencer, in 2003. They had two sons, Charles, 10, and Tennyson, 7, before the couple separated in 2012. The avid Twitter user apparently hasn’t lost his eye for the ladies. He tweeted earlier this month while promoting "Noah" in Russia: “There are a lot of beautiful women in Moscow. Am I the first to notice or does everybody say that?”

Career advice:  With Crowe on the brink of 50, he could be tempted  to continue taking bank-account-padding roles that trade on his prestige factor, such as Jor-El in last year’s Superman reboot "Man of Steel" (his highest-grossing film ever at nearly $300 million even if it barely tapped into his talents). But now that he has his blockbuster mojo back with "Noah" and audiences have reconnected with his more sensitive paternal side, it might be nice to see Crowe in more intimate settings, too. Perhaps in an independent film that doesn’t require giant rock monsters. He should follow the senior career path of someone like Paul Newman more than, say, Harrison Ford by taking age-appropriate parts that allow his still-abundant strengths to shine.  He certainly doesn’t have the comedy chops of Jack Nicholson or even Robert De Niro to fall back on. But just by going on "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon and daring to sing Johnny Cash’s "Folsom Prison Blues" reveals he is taking himself a little less seriously these days. 

Next step: Crowe has two potentially interesting projects lined up. He is making his feature directing debut and starring in an Australian production due this year, "The Water Diviner," about a father who heads to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I to find his three sons.  In 2015, he plays a mentally-ill New York City novelist and widower who struggles to raise his 5-year-old daughter in the 1980s in "Fathers and Daughters," directed by Gabriele Muccino ("The Pursuit of Happyness").  Crowe once said of his work choices, “If I don’t get the goose-bump factor when I’m reading it, then I can’t do that.” He would be wise to let that rule to continue to be his guide.

This article is related to: Russell Crowe, Russell Crowe, Noah, Darren Aronofsky, Darren Aronofsky, Career Watch, Reviews, Reviews


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