I have been watching some of my favorite movies with Girl Child lately. She likes it because it's the only time she, as a thirteen year old, is going to get a sniff of a rated R movie, and I like it because no one else in the family is interested in watching my big budget historical movies with me.
It started out easily enough. "Gladiator." "Braveheart." "King Arthur." (The one with Clive Owen.) Girl child developed a taste for big battle movies where the hero dies. She cried right along with me. (I'll admit it. I tear up every time I watch Gladiator. Can't help it.) So we delved into my extensive Civil War movie collection. "Glory." (That one shreds me too.)
But then she picked a rather odd movie the other night. "The Quick and the Dead." For those of you who have seen it, you know it's not a normal Western. It's not even a normal movie. In fact, it's actually sort of terrible, in spite of great performances from a trio of very talented actors: Gene Hackman, Leo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe. (Girl Child and I both agree that Sharon Stone is fairly horrible in this.)
Girl Child didn't care for "Quick" quite as much as she did the others. But watching the movie led us to a great discussion about what makes a great character and what makes a great actor. She's an aspiring writer, so I was very impressed by her depth of understanding about what, visually, makes a character/actor great.
I've said it before, I'll say it again, I believe Russell Crowe is one of, if not the, greatest actor of all time. I know that here in the States, where we like our stars all nice and fluffy and very, very available every minute of every day, most folks are insulted by Russell's impatience with the endless media drech. (I'm not defending the phone incident, but I do understand it. And if you say you've never had the urge to chuck something at someone, then you're lying to yourself. We all have those feelings. We just don't have the media following our every move.)
But push all that aside for a moment and ponder this: as writers, we struggle to make our characters flesh and blood. The best authors create characters that the reader feels, understands, or even becomes. It's not an easy thing to do, to create a visual aspect on paper.
Which is why a great actor can make a character amazing with one blink of an eye. A picture is worth a thousand words, but an actor that can act with his or her eyes is worth millions. And there aren't many actors that are good at it. Russell Crowe is the master of acting with his eyes.
Don't believe me? Go see "Robin Hood." (And you Robin Hood pursists, get over yourselves. It's FICTION!) There is a romance, a full on hot and sticky romance smack dab in the middle of that movie. And it's a romance that only Russell Crowe and the amazing Cate Blanchett could pull off.
Because so very, very little is said. There's no hot sex scene, (They both are covered in filth for most of the movie...) no gauzy curtains and soft candle light. But you know the exact second Robin falls in love with Marian and vice versa simply by looking in their eyes. And by the time Robin says, "I love you," by that point you've melted in a puddle under your chair. Both actors play out the entire romance with their eyes. Few actors can do that, and even fewer writers can write that. It's a visual and it's a moment on film that is a rare treasure.
Which brings me back to "Quick." Why do I keep it in my collection? Again, because of what Russell Crowe does with his eyes. His part is pretty much the only one worth watching in the movie, and his scenes with Gene Hackman are worthy of watching. But when he faces Sharon Stone in the gun fight and he tucks his hands in his belt and pleads with her to shoot him...
Go get the movie. Skip everything until almost the end. Then, go and try to write that expression into your hero. Better yet, go watch "Robin Hood," because not only has Russell now perfected the art of eye acting, but he's up against a worthy actress who holds more than her own. And it's a good movie.
Come sit next to me. I'll be there!