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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

April 7, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Russell Crowe and “The Insider”

I noticed in the paper this morning that Russell Crowe is 45 years old today. He’ll be back on the big screen next week in Kevin Macdonald’s thriller “State of Play,” playing a newspaper reporter entangled in a story involving a congressman (Ben Affleck) — who, to make things tricky, is the reporter’s friend and former college roommate. (Yes, that raised my eyebrows too; Affleck’s roughly a decade younger than Crowe, so you do wonder how many years that reporter got kept back in college.)
In recent years Crowe’s been coasting a little bit; making movies like “A Good Year” and “Body of Lies” that don’t challenge him much as an actor. It’s easy to forget how electric he can be. Remember his Bud White in “L.A. Confidential” (the role that made him a star), perpetually coiled in anger? Or his bracing movie-star swagger as Captain Jack Aubrey in “Master and Commander”? Or his charismatic villain in “3:10 to Yuma,” or his working-class hero in “Cinderella Man,” or “Gladiator,” or . . . .
But my favorite Russell Crowe role remains the one he should have won an Oscar for, but didn’t: Jeffrey Wigand in Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” a based-on-fact drama released a decade ago. Wigand is a tobacco scientist, a quiet man content with his life — until secrets about the industry compel him to speak out, to “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). Threats, complications, nervous executives and potential lawsuits cloud the issue, until this would-be whistleblower isn’t even sure what the truth is anymore. Crowe’s isn’t the showiest role in the film — that would be Pacino’s ever-blustering Bergman — but he’s the soul of it, disappearing into a flat voice and a pair of regular-guy glasses, haunted by a story he isn’t sure if he dares tell.
I couldn’t find a good clip, but really you should watch this movie in its entirety. So here’s the trailer, just to give you a taste. Though a disappointment at the box office (it was poorly marketed, as I recall — the studio didn’t seem to realize that they had a terific thriller on their hands), “The Insider” received seven Academy Award nominations, including Crowe’s first. He won the following year for “Gladiator”; many said it was an apology Oscar, to make up for the wrong decision the previous year.

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