Heaven’s Burning (1997) — Russell Crowe’s sideburn phase

PoolMan’s rating: If I poke my brain just so, it makes my leg jerk!

PoolMan’s review: A lot of people seemed to like Gladiator. Heck, I did. It’s an exciting movie featuring a dashing guy who fights his way through endless waves of soldiers and slaves just so he can take a shot at the new emperor, who’s named after a toilet. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s enjoyable enough. Actually, it kind of is like Shakespeare. Hm.

Anyways, Russell Crowe was hardly a newcomer when Gladiator got released, but it’s debatably the movie that really made him a star. Unfortunately for him, with all the spotlights temporarily on him, the world realized that he was (gasp!) a pretty big jackass. Unlike most Hollywood stars who act all nice in front of the camera (and then go home and kick their dogs, no doubt!), Crowe basically decided that if he wanted to be a prick with the whole world watching, he would. Now, I’m sure there’s a nice healthy chunk of media hype at work, there, but still. Here we are. The viewing public has basically decided that Russell Crowe is a complete ass.

So if you’re interested in seeing some of Crowe’s pre-outcast work, before the scathing Entertainment Tonight reports, before Gladiator, and around the same time as LA Confidential (but obviously not nearly as well known), Heaven’s Burning might work for you. But man, in just about every other respect, it’ll probably just weird you out.

Here’s the rundown. Midori, a recently wed Japanese woman on her honeymoon with her new husband, Yukio, decides she doesn’t want to be married, so she fakes her own kidnapping to go meet a lover who never shows. Colin (Crowe), who’s a little short on cash but extremely well endowed in the sideburn department, takes a job as a getaway driver for some Afghani bank robbers. When the job goes bad and one of the robbers is killed in the bank, they take a hostage, our darling Midori on the run from her husband. Once the remaining two robbers are safe and away from the bank, they’re about to kill Midori for having seen their faces. Colin is forced to kill one of them to save the innocent woman, and the remaining robber is allowed to leave. Good idea, that.

Colin and Midori quickly form a partnership of their own, and make their way around Australia robbing banks with her posing as a hostage. He makes a living, she gets off on the thrill of the life of crime and freedom from her husband (and of course, all together now, they fall in love). Of course, when it surfaces that Midori’s alive and not actually kidnapped, Yukio gets a wee bit upset about the public shame she’s brought upon him. He basically goes insane in the space of a couple of scenes, shaves his head, buys a motorcycle and a gun, and sets off to track her down. Meanwhile, the remaining robber likewise seeks revenge for his brother’s death (guess who Colin shot), with his former torture-master father in tow.

This may all sound pretty exciting, and at points it can be. The Afghanis finally catch up to Colin, and the fear and tension that fill your mind as they prepare a little impromptu torture session is both excruciating and genuinely surprising. But for so much of the film, especially towards the end, it gets all talky-talky and weird… like it wants to be deep, but it just can’t quite get there. Throw in arguments with a character who rides across the desert on a wheelchair playing Flight of the Valkyries on an accordion (yep) and what appears to be a slow dancing festival, and the whole thing is pretty surreal, but still pretty hollow. Australian films have a good reputation for being oddly cultworthy (see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or Shine), but it just seems a little forced here.

So. Heaven’s Burning may not be the most confusing thing I’ve ever seen (there’s a whole world of David Lynch out there for that), but it sure gives you a run for your money. Check it out for pre-jerk Russell Crowe, but don’t expect an awful lot.

Didja notice?

  • The sideburns! The SIDEBURNS!
  • Ouch! The security gate at the bank sure did its job.
  • Here comes wheelchair guy! Check your sanity at the door!
  • Yukio goes pretty convincingly from timid geek to badass… you almost wonder if it’s not a different actor.
  • Awwww… Colin and Midori look like they belong on a wedding cake.
  • How they restrained Colin in the hotel room? Holy crap, OW.
  • Aside from his escape at the hotel, Colin’s not actually much of an action hero.
  • When Yukio wrecks his bike, you can see the shadow of the boom mike on the road.
  • Um… she’s going to fix her palm lines? Can you do that?

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