Walking with titans: Russell Crowe’s career choices have walked him side by side with legends; even in Man Of Steel, he took on the role of Jor-El, Superman’s biological father, a role once played by Marlon Brando.
Russell Crowe’s Noah buoys an unsinkable career arc.
WHETHER because of deep personal ambition or a sense of having come to American cinema as an outsider, the New Zealand-born Russell Crowe’s role choices have often suggested a desire to belong to great Hollywood traditions.
Gladiator looked back to historical blockbusters such as Cleopatra and Ben-Hur, Cinderella Man joined the line of boxing movies that includes Raging Bull, and Robin Hood directly overlapped with one of the signature performances of an earlier leading man from the Antipodes, Errol Flynn. Even Crowe’s recent cameo in Man Of Steel – as Superman’s dad – happened to take on a part formerly played by a cinematic legend, Marlon Brando.
And now the history man seems to be at it again. His big 2014 release, Noah, channels Charlton Heston and the biblical extravaganzas such as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, that were popular in the 1940s and 1950s. By striking coincidence, Crowe as Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, will be going head to head with Christian Bale as Moses in Ridley Scott’s Exodus, another retro-religious film.
As these movies follow the 10-hour American series The Bible, it’s clear that Christianity is hot in US culture for reasons that may combine the current cultural power of the religious right, the cheapness of the material (scripture is out of copyright) and the fact that many of the set pieces in the good book – floods, plagues, sieges at walled cities – happily parallel the plots of disaster movies.
Revealingly, the marketing line on Noah, in posters and an early trailer, presents the bearded boat-builder as “a man trying to protect his family”, and one of the clips released so far shows Crowe delivering the line, “It begins!”, which traditionally cues the unleashing of the special effects in apocalyptic films. The biblical story of the Flood is essentially The Day After Tomorrow with a bit of a theological subplot about divine intervention.
Actors like to talk about their character’s “arc” and, in playing someone who has an ark as well, Crowe has selected a figure with many contemporary resonances. The raging elements against which the rain-lashed father fights can surely be taken – if members of the audience so choose – as metaphors for terrorism, the economy or, indeed, in these environmentally conscious times, the weather.
For Crowe, Noah feels like a canny choice. It is a role in which for an actor suddenly to look older – Crowe will reach 50 next year – will be regarded as realism rather than deterioration; it would look odd if he hadn’t gone grey and whiskery. And Noah’s arc requires him to be tremendously brave and macho, while also demonstrating notable kindness to animals: a crowd-pleasing combination of attitudes that would be hard to bring off in, for example, a film about a dad protecting his kids against terrorists in modern Detroit, Michigan.
Ever since Robin Hood, the accent has been on the performer’s vocal choices, and the trailer suggests that Crowe has gone for a throaty rumble that might well be the speaking voice of a man who has spent a lot of time persuading large and dangerous animals to walk up a plank in pairs.
And, for Crowe, the performances continue to come in two-by-two: walking by the side of Flynn in Robin Hood, Richard Burton in Gladiator, Brando in Man Of Steel and, now, Charlton Heston in Noah. – Guardian News & Media