What has Russell got to Crowe about?
It's time the Robin Hood star learnt a little humility, says Mark Monahan.
By Mark Monahan
Published: 6:00PM BST 18 May 2010
Picture this: you're a world-famous British actor, and you're promoting your new film, in which you star as a legendary Australian outlaw. You find yourself being interviewed about it all, on Australian radio by a smart, courteous Australian journalist, who politely suggests that he may have heard a hint of New Zealand in the accent you adopted for the role.
a) "Really? Oh well – I tried! I suppose it's a tricky one to get right if you aren't from this part of the world, but I hope it doesn't detract from people's enjoyment of the film."
b) "You've got dead ears mate. You've got seriously dead ears if you think that's a New Zealand accent…b-------… f---." And then flounce out of the interview like a stroppy 10-year-old girl who's just dropped Ben & Jerry's down her favourite party dress, muttering: "I don't get the New Zealand thing. I don't get it at all."
It's an inevitably inexact parallel, but it's exact enough. For such, you may well have heard, was The Mighty Russell Crowe's response to Mark Lawson last week when the latter mildly told Crowe that he thought his accent as Robin Hood, in Ridley Scott's new blockbuster, had a faint Irish burr to it.
The incident was hardly the end of the world, of course, and Lawson took it with great good grace. But only a few years ago, there was that ugly incident at an awards ceremony when Crowe went ballistic after a producer who had the temerity to edit his acceptance speech – and now this. Yes, Crowe apologised for this earlier incident, but even so – isn't his self-important charmlessness getting a little tiresome?
Now, it's true that many of the greatest artists (in all media) have had fiery tempers. These days, we don't look down on Hemingway for getting into a brawl every five seconds, or even at Caravaggio for killing someone. Moreover, film actors – Gable, Brando, Connery, DeNiro – have often derived much of their power from having the air of an the unexploded bomb about them, the sense of volcanic anger simmering only just below the surface and looking for a way out.
So, we forgive artists their volatility because of their brilliance. But just how great an "artist" is Crowe? His hard-man persona served him well in LA Confidential and Gladiator. And Peter Weir's Master and Commander was an immensely gripping film, with Crowe's authoritative captain at its centre.
But, quite apart from the fact that there were hints of Antipodean in both his Roman and sailor (and no, Russell, my ears are very much alive thank you), Weir is a man incapable of making anything other than gripping cinema – he could coax a world-beating performance from a bunch of daffodils. Moreover, several of Crowe's other recent roles – Proof of Life, American Gangster, Body of Lies – all felt like an actor treading water. A Good Year, meanwhile, is a film best forgotten.
Crowe's whistle-blower in The Insider was convincing but the film immensely unmemorable. And I am more sceptical about one of Crowe's other great "triumphs", the much-vaunted A Beautiful Mind. Look again – is his brilliant mathematician-cum-economist really much more than a mass of externalised tics?
Many saw profundity there, but I didn't, and still don't. Added to which, I've yet to read a single review of Crowe's performance in Robin Hood that suggests it re-writes the rules of acting.
In short, Crowe can be a brutally commanding presence when cast well, and he has undeniably had his moments. But he is little more a Roman general, or a maths genius, or a heroic archer, than he is a one-man saviour of cinema.
A little more humility and humour might serve him well off-screen – and, who knows, perhaps on-screen, too.