Encore’s World of Film & TV is hosting an Essential Performances of the ‘90s Showdown, a tournament to decide the greatest performance of the '90s. Andrew, the mastermind behind this project, has 32 matchups pitting the best performances of that decade against one another. In order to give the voting public a little perspective on each performance, he has asked film bloggers to provide brief reasons in favour of each performance in a given matchup. Today I will look at the supporting roles by Russell Crowe in The Insider and Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves.
Russell Crowe, The Insider
When you say the name Russell Crowe, most people immediately think of a strong moody figure. This is partly due to his roles in such films as Gladiator, Romper Stomper and L.A. Confidential. However, it is not his strength, but rather his vulnerability that makes his performance in Michael Mann’s The Insider so riveting. As Jeffery Wigand, a former tobacco company employee and whistleblower, Crowe is simply electrifying. The Insider is a film that is predominantly about journalistic integrity. It examines how 60 minutes had a moment of weakness when they succumbed to corporate pressure and decided not to air an interview that would have had a negative impact on the tobacco industry. Russell Crowe literally steals the film from both Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer. When thinking back on The Insider, it is not the internal bickering behind the scenes at 60 minutes that holds our attention, but the plight of Wigand. Crowe portrays Wigand as a man who is not only betrayed by the company he worked for, but also by the media who was supposed to help him tell his story. At the end of the day Wigand and his family are the ones who stand the most to lose. As the pawn in everyone’s game, you can really see the toil it takes on Wigand. Crowe has never looked more vulnerable than he does in this film. This is the performance where you truly believe Russell Crowe could play the average Joe; a guy who only wants to live his daily life and provide for his family.
Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves.
It is rare to find a feature film debut as raw and as moving as the performance Emily Watson gives in Breaking the Waves. In the Lars von Trier film that blends religious belief and human sexuality unlike any film has ever done before, Watson plays the sweet-natured Bess. Though viewed by some as being “not quite right in the head”, Bess is filled with a strong sense of faith and her unwavering love for Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), her new husband who works on a big oil rig. When Jan is injured on the job, Bess is consumed by guilt as she thinks the accident was a result of her praying to God to send her husband home early. Paralyzed, Jan encourages Bess to not only seek out men to sleep with, but to provide him with all the details from each encounter. This request not only tests Bess’ faith, but Watson’s commitment as an actress. The character of Bess is an extremely challenging role that very few actresses could deliver well. This is evident in the scenes where Watson must convey Bess’ frequent two-way conversations with God. She must navigate back and forth between Bess’ childlike innocence and the deep authoritative voice of God. In lesser hands these moments would come off as “weird” or “gimmicky”, but Watson is completely convincing. It is very easy to forget you are watching an actress playing a role when watching the film. Watson is simply phenomenal in the role. Even as she takes Bess down a dark and heartbreaking path, she manages to keep the question of faith in relation to marriage and sex in the forefront of the viewers mind. It is truly one of the rawest and most beautiful female performances ever captured on film.
Which of the two performances do you prefer? Be sure to vote on this and the other 90s performances all this week at Encore's World of Film & TV.