Before "A Good Year", Russell Crowe played the romantic leading man in some early movies, among them a little known 1993 Canadian independent flick called "For The Moment”.
Set against the backdrop of 1942 rural Manitoba, this nostalgic movie details the wartime romance between a dashing young Australian flyer named Lachlan (guess who?) and a lonely local girl named Lil (Christianne Hirt). How did an Australian pilot end up in Canada? The fictional Lachlan is one of many foreign fliers from Allied nations who participated in the real-life British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, set up during the Second World War to teach the finer points of flying war planes.
Lachlan is pals with a Canadian soldier named Johnny (Peter Outerbridge) who introduces him to his fiancée Kate’s family, one of whom is Lil, who works the family farm while waiting for her husband to return from combat. Lil’s marriage is one of those hasty weddings so common during wartime. Initially she resists Lachlan’s rakish charm but eventually gives in. The scene where Lachlan recites John Gillespie McGee Jr’s “High Flight” to a visibly touched and impressed Lil is easily the most romantic moment in the movie. Clearly he has her (and us) from that point forward.
Running parallel to Lachlan’s and Lil’s relationship is one between local floozy Betsy and flight instructor Zeek. Betsy not only runs a farm but operates a still and one woman brothel out of her barn to support her bratty kids and herself. The affair between Betsy and Zeek appears to be a longstanding one as they comfortably dig a garden and discuss raising her kids. Zeek is also quite open-minded about her “side jobs”, commenting that he teaches the boys to fly and she teaches them to love.
Besides learning lessons of love and flying, pilots and townsfolk alike learn the lessons of war in a telegram delivered, a suicide, a fatal crash. Some people may feel the movie ends on an open note but it really doesn’t. We, as well as the characters, know that the time for love is short. Fliers train for a few months before being sent overseas where the life expectancy of a bomber pilot is even less. Women are left behind to deal with consequences of death and affairs.
Despite its appeals, the movie does hit a few false notes. Stock villains are seemingly introduced just to liven up the plot. In one scene Lachlan and Johnny interrupt the beating of a black soldier, who’s never seen again. In the aforementioned “poetry scene”, Lachlan and Lil talk about the sense of déjà vu between them, an annoying and totally unnecessary convenience also never brought up again.
I think that Russell Crowe is one of the best actors of his generation. In “For The Moment” his future stardom quality shines through in Lachlan, who could have easily been a one dimensional character, all charm and no depth. Female lead Christianne Hirt and Crowe have an easy chemistry between them in all their scenes together. It’s nice to hear Crowe talk in his native accent at one point he teaches Hirt’s Lil a little Aussie slang. They even sing “Waltzing Matilda” together. Their co-stars also acquit themselves well.
Because of a low budget ($2.8 million), the film takes artful advantage of the beautiful countryside, with sweeping vistas of fields, sky, and lake. It also makes ample use of Pachelbel’s “Canon” in the soundtrack.
At the Vancouver International Film Festival, “For The Moment” took first prize as the best Canadian film. Crowe also won one of his first acting honors: the Manitoba Film and TV Blizzard Best Actor award.
Not everyone hits the heights of stardom like Crowe, whose recent work includes “American Gangster”. Christianne Hirt appeared in the “Lonesome Dove” tv series as Hannah McCall and has guest-starred in CBC’s “Da Vinci’s City Hall” and “Intelligence”. Peter Outerbridge starred in “ReGenesis” and has a recurring role as police inspector Murdoch in “The Murdoch Mysteries”, tv movies set in Victorian Toronto and based on books by Maureen Jennings.
“For The Moment” is sometimes available on dvd and video but you have to check. If you’re looking for other early Russell Crowe romantic dramas, try “Proof” (1991), “The Crossing” (1992), “Breaking Up” (1995) and “Heaven’s Burning” (1997).