How do you narrow down a career like Russell Crowe's? Even those who love to hate him (and there are so, so many) have to admit the guy isn't an acting slouch. Any one of his performances is a candidate for his best – the terrifying Hando of Romper Stomper, the decaying Jeffery Wigand in The Insider, the troubled Bud White of L.A. Confidential, the cruel and charismatic Ben Wade of 3:10 to Yuma, or the sad triumphs of Jim Braddock or John Nash in Cinderella Man and A Beautiful Mind. You can make a solid case for any one of them – except, perhaps, the Gladiator that earned him that perfunctory gold statue. Maximus is an iconic role, but he's not Crowe's best.
What is? Well, I'm torn with personal bias -- if you know me, you know how deeply I love L.A. Confidential -- but I'm going to have to give it to another favorite: Captain Jack Aubrey of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
We know Crowe can play intense. His characters often brood and seethe, they're sneering and glib, and they can break chairs and skulls with equal ease. His skill has often been making brutal men into poets. Maximus can spin tales of his home, Wade can calmly sketch pretty things after gunning men down, and White can see beyond Lynn Bracken's peek-a-boo hairstyle. But what is rarer in Crowe's filmography is warmth, compassion and humor. In many ways, Aubrey is still that quintessential Crowe role – a man of steel who can scowl and slaughter as well as Maximus or Robin Hood – but it's the wit and kindness of Aubrey that makes the difference.