Bud White in Close-Up

Russell Crowe has become such an enormous star in such a relatively short amount of time that it’s hard to remember what an impact he made – with his performance of Bud White in LA Confidential.

This was not just about women going crazy with lust (although that was a part of it – a HUGE part of his success, not to be discounted. It had been a while since a guy showed up on the scene who made women go that nuts). This was about something else. Men went nuts too. At least in my crowd – the actor crowd. His performance as Bud White made the actors I know PUMPED. They wanted to BE him … he also validated something within them … the man of action, the man of simple right and wrong morality – and yet, of course, he had the complexity within him that made him an interesting character. I remember my friend Wade saying to me (an incredible actor himself): “When he breaks that chair, man … holy SHIT …”

Bud White is not a happy guy. He’s not happy just being the muscle. Watch how excited he gets when he’s lying in bed with Kim Basinger, talking about what he really wants to do is work homicide. His whole body language changes. He props himself up on one elbow on the pillow, and suddenly he’s as enthusiastic and open as a little boy. But none of his colleagues will ever see that side of him. No male will ever see that side of him. Women are the only ones who will ever be allowed to see his vulnerability. This is a throw-back to old movie stars. Humphrey Bogart, for example. His characters are loners. He may have sidekicks, or worthy foes (like in Casablanca) – but you never really see the guy as having a close male friend. He’s too much of an individual, a loner for that. His heart, his soul, is reserved for the female sex. She has to work for it, sure, and she better be worth his trust … but she’s the one who gets to see that side of him. But just like Humphrey Bogart: for Bud White it has to be the right woman. Not all women, no … but the right woman? Fuggedaboutit. That’s why when he realizes she has slept with Exley he is so devastated. Intimacy is not casual for Bud White. He is the opposite of a ladies man. He is a one-woman kinda guy. I would bet that Bud White has actually never had a relationship before Lynn Bracken. Maybe he slept with hookers from time to time, just to have the release, but I think this whole being-in-love thing is new to him. .

But in every other situation, Bud White is all brawn. I love him in the very first scene when he’s doing the stakeout outside the house where the guy is beating up the woman. Bud White walks up onto the lawn – watch how he walks – the impulse, the objective is IN the way he walks. It’s not Russell Crowe’s walk, people. It’s Bud White’s walk. The bulldog, moving forward, on impulse – he WILL stop the beating. He has no idea how, but he WILL stop it. He sees the cord leading up to the Santa on the roof, and it’s just a glance – a quick glance – he sees the cord leading up, he quickly assesses the situation – he reaches out, and gives the cord a huge YANK. The Santa comes crashing off the roof. Now: I just love that quick glance he gives before he pulls it down. This is the first scene of the film. This is when Bud White is established. There’s a lot going on in that first scene, a lot of information comes at us: we see that obviously something about domestic violence drives this guy nuts. He’s FIXATED on it. Okay, so we’ve got that. That’s important to know – that is Bud White’s entire raison d’etre – it isn’t just what he does, it is who he is. We also see that his partner kind of treats him with bemused tolerance. We see how Bud White beats the CRAP out of the violent husband. This is more information. Bud White will not play by the rules when it comes to people beating up on innocents. Nope. The jag-off deserves what he gets. And THEN – when the wife comes out onto the porch, trembling … we see how gently Bud White treats her, with deference, and respect. He calls her “Ma’am.” He lifts up the fallen cord so that she can pass beneath it – and his action in THAT moment, is full of grace. It’s like a dance move – totally different from the violence he displayed 2 seconds earlier. I love that moment: how he gently lifts up the cord for her to pass underneath. He does it unconsciously. He does it instinctively. This is who Bud White is with women.

Member Chris Rock’s jokes during the Oscars about Crowe? “If you want to see how someone walked and talked three weeks ago, you get Russell Crowe!”

Russell Crowe, as Bud White, seems to actually inhabit that time. It’s a period piece. But it’s not kitschy. Or – it shouldn’t be. Bud White is a product of his time. And Russell Crowe – in those little moments – how he lifts up the cord for the beaten lady – isn’t ACTING LIKE he is back 50 years in time. He actually seems to just live there. This is so much harder than maybe it would seem. You can do all the research in the world, and look at old fashion magazines, and immerse yourself in the newspapers of that day, whatever … but then … after all the research … there’s got to be that moment of magic. The magic of transformation. Some people can pull it off. Others can’t. Russell Crowe obviously did a ton of research – the mores of the time, being a cop at that time, also – the American accent – yadda yadda – but at the end of the day, he just had to get up and DO it. I never for one second lose trust in him. I suspend my disbelief. He is not an actor in the late 20th century. He’s a bulldog cop with a buzzcut in the 1940s. And that’s final.

It’s a star-making performance. Strange. I just remember the buzz in my little world of actors about this new guy – Russell Crowe – and how incredible he was in LA Confidential. People talked about him differently than they did about other new actors … It was almost like the second he arrived (at least in America, he had been doing great work in New Zealand for a while) – but anyway – it was almost like the second he arrived we couldn’t imagine what it was like before he got there. Or … something like that. He seemed INEVITABLE.

And the inevitability was the result of Russell Crowe’s enormous talent, sure but also because of the ROLE of Bud White. It was Bud White that made him a star.

I would even say (and I’m going out on a limb here, but whatevs) – that it is the first moment we see him that made him a star. All it took was one moment.

The movie has the prologue – narrated by Danny Devito – where we hear about the tabloids, and how it works, and the dirtiness beneath the surface of LA … it’s light, it’s funny, it’s flashy, the music swings, we go from person to person, we see the grainy photographs in the tabloids … Then, that kind of fades away … and the screen goes to black.

The next thing we see is an intense close-up of Bud White. It’s not a slow fade-in to the close-up. The scene doesn’t come up slowly out of the black – no. The screen goes to black, and then BOOM, we’re in the close-up. We see a man. Staring at something. We don’t know what yet.

But it doesn’t matter.

It is one of the most amazing close-ups I have ever seen. How courageous to start the movie with that. Curtis Hanson tosses you right in. We don’t know what is going on, we don’t know who this man is (and remember: Russell Crowe was unknown then – he didn’t have “brand” recognition yet – he was a stranger to us) … but we know that … we cannot look away. He is unbelievably still. He doesn’t blink. He just stares. He’s a snake, or some kind of predator. He is waiting for his moment. But one of the reasons why the close-up is so arresting, so startling … is that beneath all of that … somehow … is sadness. What this man is looking at makes him sad. It’s subtle – it’s just a whiff of sadness … but it’s there.

Now that is some great film acting.

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7 Responses to Bud White in Close-Up

  1. Fence says:

    Great piece. LA Confidential is one of my all-time favourites. Haven’t watched it in ages though.

  2. JuliaR says:

    Becoming the character is his great strong suit. In “A Beautiful Mind”, he becomes OLD. Everybody else wears the makeup and pretends to be old but Russell really IS old. And the tribute that Akiva Goldsman gives him on the DVD is amazing (there are two voice-over versions – one with Ron Howard and the other with the scriptwriter).

  3. Tainted Bill says:

    That’s it, I’m bringing L.A. Confidential to the condo tonight, and we’re watching it on the laptop.

  4. Wutzizname says:

    Me too. Sold. I’m hitting Best Buy at noon. I saw it on Cable a few times, and REALLY liked it, but now I have to see it in its entirety.

  5. Alex says:

    Genius. Crowe’s work is smart and moving. I love every inch of this film and I love him in every frame of it. You’re so right Sheila that he doesn’t “play at” being in the time, he simply IS part of that world.

  6. I have had the same reaction to Russell Crowe over Jack Aubrey that you have had over Bud White – and to tell the truth Crowe’s name had filtered through my awareness of actors over the last few years as a kind of peripheral thing. I am not an avid movie goer like a lot of people. I tend to reserve my cinematic forays for the films that dovetail with my interests. Gladiator SHOULD HAVE introduced me to Crowe because of the topic matter: ancient Rome, an interest I had since high school when I was taking Latin and plotting to do an archaeological dig in Pompeii. Gladiator should have brought me to the theatre because I would have seen a historical portrayal of ancient times. That someone named Russell Crowe was in it would have been an afterthought, until I left the theatre. Why I DID NOT go see it when it first came out still baffles me, except to say once again, I am not an avid movie goer.

    Still to make a long story short, I started taking an interest in Crowe because I had been introduced to Patrick O”Brian’s novels…and that because I was following the next-to-be-played role of Billy Boyd, who was my favorite character from LOTR (I think he was fabulous with what he was given, but will never forgive the scriptwriters for dumbing down the character so horribly). Couple that with another lifelong interest of mine in sailing ships and I was primed to be impressed. I had not seen much of any of Crowe’s films to have any bias one way or another, so I was completely open to what he would do with a naval character that I had fallen in love with by the time the movie came out.

    OH MY GOD.

    I dont think anyone who has NOT read the books can appreciate how well Crowe inhabits Jack. There was a bunch of grumbling and bitching and moaning about Crowe from the Purists, whose ideas of how the film should have been made were really weak-minded to begin with and were so fixed in their ideas that anyone aside from whom they thought best would never measure up that not even a Russell Crowe could satisfy!! LOL Even though I “see” someone remarkably different whenever I read Jack in the books, I am Utterly Sold on Crowe as Jack because he *IS* an 18th century English Man that sailors would follow anywhere. I think I knew I was taken when in the scene with the young Blakeney after his amputation – every nuance of feeling that Jack would have in a paternal care of young midshipmen and his understanding how a book on Nelson would help Blakeney get through the toughest part of losing an arm was right there in several seconds…without a single word uttered. THAT was Jack Aubrey and I really don’t care what the purists say – none of the actors they supported for the part could ever have that kind of moment, the kind of moment that people being introduced to Jack would need to see.

    Well, that scene and the one where he is paying particular attention to the young South American lady in the boat.

    You were talking about how Bud walked to the house on his way to stop the beating – made me think of a saying I saw somewhere else on the net – I can’t quote it directly, but it went like this : “Nothing scares a man who is in the wrong than a man who is in the right and keeps on coming.” I think that is what we respond to in Bud White. He will NOT be deterred! As a woman, that is an element that is scary/erotic/thrilling because it seems to be so rare nowadays.

    I am going to have to sit down and watch LA Confidential again – I have been deeply entrenched in my love affair with Crowe!Aubrey and had to overcome some bias against Kim Basinger (I really dont like her) to enjoy the movie the first time I watched it. I plan to find some time when I can savor the movie completely without outside distraction.

    In short – Dittos with what you said, Sheila!

  7. Rob says:

    I think this was some of the boldest casting I’ve ever seen. Crowe and Guy Pearce were fantastic. They’re Australian actors playing distinctly American characters and they both totally fooled me. I think Pearce was even better than Crowe in this. His American accent and All-American, naive, goodie two-shoes persona were perfect. I can’t picture any American actor playing Exley without descending into caricature but I can picture Americans playing Bud White.

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