Russell Crowe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hando in Romper Stomper.
I have previously covered two other actors having played neo-nazis those being Ryan Gosling in The Believer and Edward Norton in American History X. Both films dealt with treacherous subject matter with both actors taking on the role of such morally reprehensible men. In both instances though there was perhaps a safety net of sorts for the films, for the actors and really for the audience watching the film. In American History X, after the opening sequence we cross cut between Norton playing a full blown neo-nazi, a man seeking redemption and showing remorse for his previous actions. In The Believer we know from the outset that that Ryan Gosling's character is more complicated since we immediately learn of his Jewish heritage and upbringing. There is no such "safety net" for Romper Stomper or Crowe in the role Hando, perhaps that has helped keep this film fairly obscure outside of Australia, and likely it would be even more forgotten if not for Crowe's later career being of such notoriety. There are no truly sympathetic characters within the film, the closest the film comes is one of neo-nazis showing some minor regrets yet not doing anything about it, and the young woman Gabrielle who joins the group, who is broken from years of abuse, yet still participates in the gang's horrible acts.
The film in no way hides the brutality of the group as we open with them beating a few teenagers, we see that the worst of them is their leader played by Crowe. The character of Hando is a wholly despicable sort, and perhaps made all the terrible because he's played by Russell Crowe. Crowe's considerable presence as an actor is wholly evident this early in his career as he does command the screen as Hando. Crowe realizes the charisma of Hando quite effectively, and even though this won't really work on any sensible viewer since we know what he is from the start, Crowe makes it absolutely convincing that Hando would command the men as he does. Crowe carries himself with such swagger as though Hando firmly believes himself to be this leader of men for a greater cause, and is so determined in this that he easily convinces his followers of this as well. When he speaks of his philosophy, which is complete garbage, Crowe though does infuse every word with such a palatable passion that again would be most effective in rallying his men to his demented cause.
Again this film is not easily digested, and part of this is how many scenes it has of Hando and his men being the horrible people they are. Crowe perhaps makes them even harder to watch then they are in conception because of how good he is in the role. Crowe brings such a intensity in every hateful word and act that makes every moment of it utterly chilling to watch. Crowe does not hold back for a moment in making the hate truly so venomous as it seems to exist in every pour. Every part of his performance in his eyes, his physical manner that always carries an aggressiveness, asserts Hando as this hate filled man. There is no goodness underlying the man, or some hidden pain to try to alleviate the motivation some way. He's a hateful man, and that's all there is to it. Crowe does not ever make this seem simplistic though and again this is what makes the film all the more difficult. He's not a cartoon of a neo-nazi, rather Crowe's method of fully embodying the vileness grants it a terrible honesty, the honesty that this man is just a rotten man to his core.
Crowe's portrayal works within technically the one note as he does show that Hando is always defined by his hate at every point. He avoids caricature though by always showing that this evil man is still a man who does these things. Crowe does not try to make us sympathize with Hando in these moments, but rather just shows that Hando has a depth though only in terms that he isn't just a detached personification of cruelty. Crowe shows there is more to him, but that more isn't any better than the man at his most violent. We follow his relationship with Gabrielle. Crowe in these moments shows Hando a little quieter as he romances, well more of has sex with her, yet the nature of the man isn't any different. Crowe still depicts this always as self-centered act, as he speaks only still as things concern himself, and when he randomly lashes out against her it seems to make sure attention is directed back to himself. There is a moment late in the film where Hando finds Davey has slept with Gabrielle. Crowe's great in this scene where he has Hando not lash out, only because he's concerned with his own safety as the police are looking for him. Crowe though in that moment reveals all the desperation of a man with not only his freedom on his late, but also the sense of personal betrayal. It's a terrific moment though as it does not create any sympathy for the man, but it humanizes him just in terms of showing he's human. One needs to remember though this is as the worst of humanity but still humanity. This performance isn't about making a good man, just a horrible one, but still a man. Crowe's performance throughout the film lends nuance and complexity but only in terms of emotions we see in Hando. He's not a complex person in any way, he's Neo-nazi who does what he does because he's a barbaric monster, but since he's a person there is at least some complexity in his emotional state at any given point, Crowe realizes that. Although this isn't an appealing performance in any way, it is a very good one, and an early indication of Crowe's considerable talent.