Was Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert a Hit or Mis?

It’s been the source of constant jokes and even a few cruel comments but does Russell Crowe deserve the flack he received for his performance as Javert in Les Miserables? Read two opinions by members of the Stage Door Dish team then weigh in with your own thoughts!

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Russell Crowe as Javert.

Samantha:

I enjoyed Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert.

This one sentence is among the most unpopular opinions in the theatre community, and especially within the Les Miserables fandom, but I honestly don’t understand why people are so harsh about Russell’s performance. What’s even more baffling are the claims that Russell can’t act. With an Academy Award, two other nominations, a Golden Globe and countless other awards, it’s evident that Russell is a wonderful performer.

Few remember the band but Russell is also a singer. Oh yes. He had a rock band called “Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts” from 1992 to 2005 and is currently performing with “The Ordinary Fear of God.” Though I question the band names, I do not question Russell’s ability to perform a rock ballad. If you listen to “Stars” on the Les Miserables album, which is one of the tracks I have on repeat most often, I would be genuinely surprised if someone argued Russell cannot carry a tune.

With his individual talent, both as an actor and a performer, the question now becomes why did Russell appear weak in the film beside the likes of Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Samantha Barks and the others? It’s because compared to many actors who have spent years involved with Les Miserables, operatic singing and the stage, Russell was doing this for the very first time.

He was vulnerable and learning the process while others, like Samantha Barks and Tony Award-winning actor Hugh Jackman, comfortably transitioned into their roles. His monologues, in particular his performance of “Stars” and the moment he places his Napoleonic medal on Gavorche’s chest stand out as shining moments in Russell’s performance. And it’s an example of how he carried his solo scenes well but failed to live up to the experience and mastery of those he performed with.

However, to discredit his entire performance, or even worse to completely make a mockery of it, is equally frustrating and confusing to me because Russell delivered a very solid performance and while he was not the breakout star of the film by any means, to say he can’t act and can’t sing is absurd.

Russell Crowe as Javert.

Russell Crowe as Javert.

Amelia: 

Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert was fine. Nothing more, nothing less. It lacked the intensity and any outward manifestation of the interior struggle he experiences as the plot moves forward. I went into the movie giving him the benefit of the doubt because Javert can be played as a badass, and Russell Crowe certainly has a string of badass characters under his belt. But I was truly underwhelmed.

A coworker of mine said “but he’s supposed to be indifferent!” I have to respectfully disagree. He might be indifferent to the plight of Valjean. He might be indifferent to the plight of Fantine and the rest of the poor, disgruntled people of Paris. But he is not indifferent to the law. The law is his passion. Javert’s character introduces a moral question that still has audiences pondering the answer to. Javert opts to end his life because he cannot justify how a man can break the law and still be a good person, deserving of fair treatment and a righteous end.  That is certainly not indifferent.

His performance seemed stunted and somewhat guarded until his penultimate scene during “Turning” in which he sees all the deceased boys of the barricade lined up together on the floor of the Café Musain. The moment he decides to give Gavroche his Napoleonic medal does stand out as one of the more touching parts of the movie, and a treat to audiences as an artistic break from the musical.

Unfortunately, any growing mental duress you might glimpse during that scene seems to vanish as “Javert’s Suicide” begins. The song is sung with the same energy and sense of urgency as we see in the rest of the movie, which seems inappropriate. He is about to commit suicide. It says so right in the title of the song. This is the point where I wish he had simply stopped singing and performed a dramatic reading of the lyrics instead.

Crowe is a wonderful actor, but I think his talents were not utilized correctly in this particular film.

 

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald
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10 Responses

  1. “Les Miserables” did nothing to help nor harm Russell Crowe’s reputation as an actor. However, if he is asked to play in another musical that requires a voice fit for the opera, he should run the other way. “Javert” is supposed to be a “bad guy.” Hugh Jackson should win an oscar for keeping a straight face whenever Russell “crowed” after him.

    Russell Crowe’s part was an accomplishment for all the wrong reasons. His attempts to hit those high notes brought comic relief to an otherwise long and boring film–and for that, I thank him.

    That said, I highly regard Russell Crowe as an actor. His performances in “Gladiator” and “A Brilliant Mind” are matchless.

    • Oops! Jackman, not Jackson. Forgive the typo. Hugh is my favorite contemporary actor. Sadly, his talents are often wasted. “Les Miserables” should have been a hit, but even Hugh Jackman’s and Anne Hathaway’s outstanding performances could not override the less-than-stellular performances of some of the other actors/singers.

  2. Well, unfortunately, I’m going to have to strongly disagree with some of the things said here. I thought Russell was terrible in Les Mis. Yes, I said it. I did not say that he’s a terrible actor, cuz he’s not. His performance in “A Beautiful Mind” is gripping, haunting, and mesmerizing in every way (and he was robbed when he didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor). But Les Mis was not his film and Javert was not his character; he seemed so uncomfortable playing the role that he simply forgot how to act. (And yes, there’s a difference between acting and attempting to emote). If he did anything, he used his eyes to tell his story but forgot about the rest of his body. As for him being “indifferent,” I agree with Amelia; he is indifferent, but he is passionate! Why on earth would he spend the better part of his life chasing Valjean if he wasn’t passionate about the law? I deeply believe that Javert’s passion for the work he’s doing is the most complicated aspect of his character and is something that should be explored by the actor in the music, especially the moments when he monologues to God or the audience. He is trying to justify his actions, but what Crowe did on screen (at least the way it read to me) was attempt to get through each song and stay on pitch. While there is nothing wrong with this, it simply wasn’t enough to fully bring Javert to life. What WAS brilliant was Hooper’s decision to foreshadow Javert’s suicide as he walked on the precipice during “Stars”—that was downright chill-inducing. Making him suicidal years before he takes his own life was a fascinating directorial choice. And while his placing of the medal on Gavroche was the moment when my heart stopped beating during my first and second viewing of the film, I do not attribute this to Crowe; I attribute it to the writers who decided that scene should be included in the film. Of course it makes the audience like Javert just a little more, but that has nothing to do with Crowe himself. And while his performance may have been “fine” overall, I can’t say that that’s good enough for a film version of one of the most beloved musicals of all time. This is an instance where a Broadway veteran with film experience should have been chosen for the role.

  3. I think there is no doubt that Crowe’s Javert was not the strongest vocal performance among iconic Javerts such as Norm Lewis or, more recently, Andrew Varela on the U.S. tour. However, I still LOVED Crowe’s performance! He brings a stunning and stoic but passionate quality to the part that is simply beautiful. And I must remind those who are critical of his voice that he sounds MOST like the original Javert as heard in the French Concept Album (also known as the Funky French Version)! He is a rock star, not an opera singer, but that makes the role he plays all the more remarkable. I, certainly will defend Crowe to a fault, not that je needs it!

  4. Yes thank you! I thought he acted it well enough and he may not have been the strongest Javert, vocally, but he certainly did an acceptable job, and Stars is my most-played song too! I don’t get all the hate for this performance.

  5. I personally feel that Russell did a wonderful job playing Javert. And I also feel that he’s a wonderful singer. I’ve listened to his music with both TOFOG bands a lot and I love his voice. The idea of a musical is not for everyone to sound beautiful and operatic, but to put the feeling of the moment into the song and I think Russell did that.

  6. For years I’ve considered Russell Crowe one of my favorite actors. It’s baffling that there are people that question his acting skills, even if they were disappointed with his portrayal of Javert in Les Miserables.
    Yes, I cringed a few times at Crowe’s voice in the movie, but I respect him immensely for taking on the role and trying something so bold. He doesn’t have a terrible voice at all; it’s just not as powerful and trained as most musical theater fans would hope for for his character.
    Still, mucho props to Crowe for his role in the film.

  7. Another thing that non-singers don’t tend to consider is that the vast majority of the cast (but most noticeably Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe) were singing roles whose tessitura was far above their natural singing range, so of course it’s not going to sound OMG SO AWESOME JUST LIKE PHILIP QUAST.

  8. Thank you, Sam! I knew I wasn’t alone! I have friends who hated his performance with a passion, but they also had harsh words to say about Hugh, and many others in the cast. I think they were just being picky.

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