There is plenty not to like about ‘Les Miserables’. It has the campest, most irritating nickname of any cultural ‘brand’ ever. When some numpty screeches ‘Lay Mizz’ I feel as if my head might explode like a watermelon caught in between Beyoncé’s SuperBowl mega thighs. Then there is the film’s dead-eyed a-historicism, which admittedly is a fairly boring criticism but as a nominal ‘historian’ (I study History at university), ground my gears in a way that most films about historical events do (looking at you ‘Pearl Harbour’). Ignoring that, you still have to deal with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter irritatingly wandering in off the set of ‘Sweeny Todd’ to reprise their roles from that film seemingly ad verbatim. Amanda Seyfried does her weird Amanda Seyfried pouty fish thing and sings at a pitch so high that my (now dead) dog started barking. Anne Hathaway mirrors her character Fantine’s desperation with her pleading crowd pleasing give me an Oscar performance. Worst of all, most of the cast speak in a Danny-Dyer-on-his-way-to-watch-West-Ham-whilst-eating-an-eel-pie cockney brogue. Yet the film works; watching it you can almost smell the filthy verdigris and Dickensian grimness that souses every inch of every scene. Hugh Jackman is magisterial. The plot even with all it’s nonsensical contortions brims with a head-banging force that carried me along despite myself. Above this all, striding across the rooftops of 19th century Paris like a massively fucked off Quasimodo is a sombre, confused genius – Russell Crowe as principal bad bloke Javert.
‘Later, I did have a complete breakdown. No, not when Russell Crowe, who stars as evil, intractable Inspector Javert, sings ‘fallen from Go-od, fallen from gra-a-ace’ like a hoarse bulldog.’ – Jan Moir in the Daily Fail
Clearly Russell performance wasn’t the most popular. Yet the lamentable Jan Moir is about as wrong about this as she is on homosexuality, a proclivity which excites an embarrassingly outdated ‘Ewww gross’ reaction from her. Unlike her feelings about the gay community however, Moir wasn’t alone in disliking Crowe’s performance, most people I’ve spoken to about the film marked Crowe out for criticism. There are some understandable reasons for this – namely that Crowe can’t actually sing, which is something of a problem in a musical (but then the nature of musicals is that actors have to sing and singers have to act). It’s actually pretty odd, for Crowe singing seems to involve barking the words out in a blithely un-melodic manner. It’s scruffy, words are spat and snarled out, there is spluttering and mostly there is a definite sense of pain conveyed by Crowe the whole way through the film.
I didn’t really give a shit though. It made sense. In a film encrusted with realism why should every character sing like a choirboy? I’d actually go further: there is something exceptional about what Crowe does in ‘Lay Mizz’, his performance which is drenched in reluctance is also aflame with courage. He may as well be performing naked, so stripped back, so close to the core does Crowe bring the audience to his Javert.
“For me, and this is probably an unpopular attitude to have, considering what we’re talking about, but I didn’t like the character in the stage show, I didn’t respond to it at all. I just thought it was overly simplistic and I couldn’t follow why he came to the conclusions he came to, you know?” – Russell Crowe talking about Javert with digital spy
Crowe’s reading of the character above is perfect. Frankly, in the stage show Javert makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. You’re telling me that he chases Jean Valjean across 19 years for stealing a rancid loaf of bread? Bollocks. It’s nonsensical. Crowe understood this and that’s why his performance works so well. By adding depth and above all vulnerability (manifested starkly by the weakness of his singing when compared to Jackman or Hathaway) he makes an overly simplistic and unbelievable character into something as real as the grime director Tom Hooper coats his camera lens in. When Crowe belts out the lines:
“Lord let me find him
That I may see him
Safe behind bars
I will never rest”
The throbbing urgency he imbued it with left me thinking Javert had a bit of a ‘thing’ for Jean. No wonder Jan Moir didn’t like it.