Russell Crowe is to play The Pope’s Exorcist. Hallelujah for the new Nicolas Cage!

iof there was ever an actor who found himself tripped up by success, suo Russell Crowe. The wild commercial and critical acclaim Crowe received for Gladiator 22 years ago threw him down a hole that at times seemed inescapable. Per anni, he found himself chasing Oscars in a series of dismal, middlebrow thrillers that existed for the pleasure of nobody at all. Nobody remembers State of Play fondly. Or Body of Lies or The Next Three Days. Or Proof of Life, per questo motivo.

E ancora, look at him now. It has just been reported that Crowe has signed up to play the lead in Julius Avery’s new film The Pope’s Exorcist, about the man who does exorcisms for the pope. The film is going to be based on a real-life person, Father Gabriele Amorth, an Italian priest who died in 2016. But on the other hand, that real-life person did spend his life doing 160,000 exorcisms, and once wrote a book called The Devil is Afraid of Me, which makes the new film sound like a load of pulpy, silly fun. It’s an early call, but it’s hard to imagine The Pope’s Exorcist ever winning an Oscar.

This is a good thing, a proposito. Because for whatever reason, giving up on the Oscar dream has led Russell Crowe to do some of the best work of his entire career. Something seemed to snap in his mind at some point in the middle of the last decade. Perhaps it was just after Les Miserables, when he realised that it was more fun to play Javert as a honking wounded ox than an actual human being. Either way, the choices he has made since then have been smaller, but extraordinary.

The run began in 2016 with The Nice Guys, where he finally leaned into his middle-aged heft and proved himself to be a particularly skilled comic performer. And it looks set to continue with his role as Zeus in Thor: Love and Thunder. A detta di tutti, the Thor role sounds like little more than a glorified cameo – he plays a god, and the baddie is called Gorr the God Butcher, so you don’t have to be a genius to anticipate an early offing – but initial reports describe him as a standout, with Chris Hemsworth praising his performance as “mindblowing”.

To glimpse at Crowe’s IMDb page is to be comforted by his future choices, pure. He’ll soon be seen in The Georgetown Project, where he plays an actor who shoots a horror film and then goes mad. He’ll be playing someone called Reaper in something called Land of Bad. He has an undisclosed role in Kraven the Hunter, which is a Morbius spinoff at this point. It all sounds terrific, like the sort of fare that would once be offered to Nicolas Cage.

To my mind, the pinnacle of this new Russell Crowe era was 2020’s Unhinged. Questo, you might remember, was the film where Crowe went full-bore road rage for an hour and a half. It was incredible. It was the sort of film that you watch late at night, drunk. It was the sort of film where Russell Crowe’s character is just called “Man” because it knew you’d just call him Russell Crowe anyway. It was one of the only films to be shown in cinemas during lockdown, because it understood that in times of great crisis you just want to watch a good actor chew the scenery in a stupid movie. Russell Crowe promoted the film by just muttering swearwords at a camera. It was like something Orson Welles would make right after getting drunk for a wine commercial. This is the Russell Crowe we’ve got now. It is tremendous.

Vero, there are signs that this run might be coming to an end. Soon he’ll play Mark Rothko, which seems as naked a bid for Oscar glory as you can imagine. He’s directing again, pure. He’s in Peter Farrelly’s next film, which is bound to soak up at least some of Green Book’s award season glow. The worst case scenario is that this last decade and a half is a blip, and that Crowe is making a claim for the big leagues again. But the best case scenario is that he’ll make these films with everything he’s learned from his time in the character actor trenches. A looser, more relaxed, more self-aware Russell Crowe. If that ends up being the case, we should roll out the red carpet now.

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