One can only imagine Russell Crowe’s reaction when he was approached about The Man with the Iron Fists. He had to be ecstatic about a script co-penned by the Wu Tang Clan’s (and avid film buff) RZA and genre guru Eli Roth,and about a project executive produced by Quentin Tarantino, right?

A tribute to the great martial arts films of the 70s and 80s, The Man with the Iron Fists focuses on the character of Blacksmith (RZA), a mysterious stranger who arrives in the small Chinese town of Jungle Village after escaping slavery. Earning a living making weapons for rival clans in the East, Blacksmith ultimately finds himself caught in the middle of a vicious and bloody battle for the emperor’s gold.

Enter Russell Crowe as Jack Knife, another mysterious man from the West. Upon his arrival in the town, Jack goes straight to The Pink Blossom, the local whorehouse run by a fierce madam (Lucy Liu), where he chooses his paramours with great aplomb. Crowe gives a practically gleeful performance as the British mercenary whose true purpose in town is not revealed until the end of the film (but no spoilers here!).

Crowe easily morphs from a seemingly mild-mannered Casanova into a calculated killer with a rage issue. Wielding his handy knife-pistol (proving that sometimes you can use a knife in a gun-fight), Jack exerts his dominance over all rivals in the village. At the same time, Crowe brilliantly imbues this violent outsider with a sense of dignity and honor, especially during the sequence when he dramatically rescues Blacksmith from almost certain death just because he cares. Jack retains ample ferocity, however, and pursues the second part of his mysterious journey—bloody revenge—with remarkable gusto.

The Man with the Iron Fists is the first of three films starring Crowe coming out during the 2012 award season. Perhaps Crowe’s most exciting and challenging upcoming project is Tom Hooper’s version of the Broadway musical Les Misérables. The iconic role of Javert gives Crowe the opportunity to both act and sing the part of the obsessed policeman, further demonstrating his remarkable range as an artist. Following that is the  political thriller Broken City, where Crowe plays a corrupt NYC mayor opposite Mark Wahlberg’s lackey cop.

We predict that 2012 will prove to be a banner year for Crowe as he moves from feudal China to the battlements of revolutionary Paris to the mean streets of NYC. We are certainly glad to be along for the ride.

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Each week, Tribeca will shine a spotlight on a standout performance in a current release that we feel is noteworthy, either because it marks a change of direction or a career milestone for an established actor or because it serves as a breakthrough for an emerging one.