If you're a fan of Les Misérables, there's a good chance you're already annoyed by the title. Russell Crowe is possibly the most frequently knocked aspect of the 2012 film of one of the world's most famous musicals. His vocal talents are pulled apart at every turn, calling them "emotionless," "wooden," or just plain bad.
Yet, while I can certainly see why some people pull the Oscar-winning actor for his performance of Javert, I think it's wholly unfair. Once you really look at his performance (and the content he has to work with) it's possible to be content, or impressed, with what he did for the role.
The Underrated Value Of The 'Pub Voice'
Even from the first moments that Crowe appears on screen, his vocal talents are laid plain. He doesn't have a broad range, and he certainly doesn't imbue his words with the raw emotion of a character such as Anne Hathaway's Fantine; yet, I'm not sure either of these is a negative.
Crowe's voice is loud and clear, and it carries a stony conviction that perfectly fits his character. I've seen others describe it as a "pub voice," the kind of voice that carries well while singing "God Save The Queen" over the sound of sports in the background. Not to mention, Crowe's singing background mostly falls within the realm of rock music, which is obviously a very different vocal style to West End musicals. It makes him stick out, which makes you feel like he can't sing, when he genuinely can.
Besides, give this a listen — it's a studio recorded version of Javert's flagship song from the musical, and it really is quite good!
Crowe Actually Brings Some Emotion To Javert
Honestly, Javert is an incredibly flat character, and there isn't much material to work with. He's a legalist, believing very stalwartly that law and order matters more than anything else. His tale is essentially the breaking down of everything he ever believed in, causing a huge internal crisis; it's very linear.
Throughout the film Crowe is frowning. He looks constantly grumpy, and this is entirely intentional. Javert is rigid and you're meant to feel that he lacks humanity. However, there is one moment in the film he shows genuine joy. As he is helping the revolutionaries he lets out a genuine smile, for the only time in the entire movie. He looks relaxed, and it's striking.
Javert is faced with people breaking the law for a cause he sees as noble, and he cannot comprehend this. After pacing through the bodies of the revolutionaries near the end of the tale, he looks distraught. The medal, which he proudly wears for the duration of the film, is removed and placed in the body of Gavroche. It's an incredibly moving moment, and you witness Javert's total loss. His conviction is gone and his pride is in tatters.
Ultimately, Javert commits suicide due to the turmoil he faces, and that itself is a genuinely sad moment. You watch this once strong man stand like a hanged man with no rope at the edge. I felt the loss quite keenly. He is my favorite character from the film because of the genuine journey he goes on with the help of Crowe's performance. Javert losing everything that is important to him during the duration of Les Mis is actually brilliant. It's difficult to see someone's entire world be broken down and for them to question their entire existence.
Crowe Actually Gives One Of The Best Performances
It is a bold statement, but Crowe gave the character of Javert much needed life, and I think that deserves to be acknowledged. After all, Les Misérables was nominated for seven Oscars and won three of them! Crowe's performance stands out, that's for sure, but that's because Les Misérables is not a subtle movie, and the care taken by Crowe therefore seems wooden; the nuances seem out of place. However, the way Crowe carries himself during the pivotal balcony scenes and as he walks through the street of bodies is genuinely wonderful, so I really think the man deserves a bit more praise.