Roland Deschain (AKA the Gunslinger) is not only the heart of Stephen King's epic Dark Tower fantasy series, but he's also one of the best characters King has ever created. And that's precisely why I think trying to cast Russell Crowe as Roland in Ron Howard's proposed The Dark Tower film franchise is a terrible idea.
Roland is a complex, beleaguered soul who exists in and out of time, having outlived everyone he's ever known but his enemies, and dedicated what's left of his miserable life to tracking down the Man in Black. He's a salty, angry man, but he's not bitter. He still knows, with more than a little help from all the people he encounters on his way to the Dark Tower, how to learn and love and change as a human being, which is what makes him such a tortured and sympathetic figure that would sooner spit on the name hero than think he was one. And that's just not Russell Crowe.
Ever since Gladiator cemented his stardom, Crowe's action roles have all been pretty much little more than a variation on that brooding, brick-wall idea of machismo that Maximus embodied. Crowe's presence in movies isn't subtle enough to be a good fit for Roland. That's not to say he's incapable of subtlety in his acting -- he's great -- rather that he's not the kind of actor who can vanish into a role. He exudes a larger-than-life confidence that feels too postured and too predictable. He can never not be Russell Crowe.
Crowe is the kind of actor you seek when you're casting a man's man. Roland Deschain is not a man's man. He is The Man. He's quiet, reserved and doesn't need to make a big show of anything. There's no posturing with Roland. There's nothing artificial about him. He's the pure distillation of what happens when the universe has chipped away at one's very existence for an entire lifetime until all that's left are distant memories and unshakeable instincts. Crowe is just too big a personality, both on and off the screen, to inhabit that.
Basically, Roland is the kind of character people (be they characters in the story or audience members) shouldn't be able to figure out just by looking at him. One look at someone like Crowe, though, no matter the role, and you're given everything. And not only that, but he's also not exactly a team player. (Talking strictly on-screen, of course; no idea what he's like to work with.) Roland is a part of a ka-tet and his ability to trust and need others more than he realizes, to become one with Eddie Dean, Susannah, Jake and Oy, is crucial, and unfortunately something that's very, very difficult to imagine Crowe pulling off.
Having said all of that, it would be great to still see Crowe in The Dark Tower. He would make a killer Marten Broadcloak, one of several incarnations of Randall Flagg (aka the Man in Black), the sorcerer Roland has spent his lifetime chasing. Marten is the kind of figure whose mere presence is a challenge to everyone around him. He can suck the air out of a room the second he walks into it, and he's an all-time great asshole and schemer. And we can all agree that's a role where the gravitas Crowe can't help but bring the table is actually a blessing. He could do it in his sleep.
So who should actually step into the dusty ole boots of the Gunslinger? My top pick would be Warrior star Joel Edgerton. He's a good age (about 40, allowing him to age younger and older as needed for the sequels), the right build (not too hulking, but hardly lean), and the right look (piercing eyes and a hidden temperament), but most importantly he's the right personality. Edgerton's at a stage in his career where his casting brings nothing to the table other than sheer talent. There's no persona attached to him. He can vanish into a role without question and live there undisturbed by preconceived notions and emotional drift from other roles. Crowe's too big for that, and he's too old to play the younger version of Roland the movie will definitely have to call back to. Edgerton's perfect.
Aside from Edgerton, there aren't a ton of known actors that excite this Dark Tower junkie. The previously attached Javier Bardem wouldn't have been my first choice, obviously, but he's still a more flexible fit than Crowe. Viggo Mortensen would be dynamite, but let's be realistic about him actually signing on for such a massive project at this stage in his career. Casting a complete and utter unknown would be perfectly okay with me, but considering how big of an endeavor this franchise promises to be, that's just not likely. A studio needs a name and a face that people can point to on a poster. That's not only understandable, that's just plain good business. Crowe just isn't that man, though. Maybe he was in the mid-'90s, but not anymore.
But what do you think? Am I crazy and Russell Crowe is actually a perfect Roland Deschain? Who would you like to see anchor The Dark Tower?