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Russell Crowe and Les Mis: a match made in…

Les Miserables

Les Miserables (Photo credit: AndyRobertsPhotos)

…heaven or hell? Every year on New Year’s Day, my friend Gayle and I see a movie and then have dinner afterward. This year, unlike some others, there wasn’t a clear favorite, so we settled on Les Miserables. Neither of us had seen any incarnation of the stage version, but it’s one of her favorite novels (which I admit to never having finished), and she had some trepidation about the potential trivialization of the story.

With neither the book nor the stage version to compare it to, I judged the movie on its own merits and found it to be a good production overall. I knew the vocals had been sung live and not in the studio, so I wasn’t expecting them to be perfect. (They weren’t “sweetened” in the studio afterward, either, a term I just learned.) The actors all seemed to inhabit their characters quite well and to do a decent job with the singing, with a few really outstanding performances (especially by Samantha Banks). But some characters seemed more human than others.

The person I was most impressed with was…Russell Crowe. So I was really surprised to discover all the Russell Crowe bashing taking place on the internet. “Epic fail,” claimed one headline. Had we seen different movies?

At dinner, Gayle said she realized the reason she likes opera but doesn’t generally like musicals, is that opera singers have trained voices and the actors in musicals often don’t. Philistine that I am, I do not like opera, so I don’t feel let down when the actors in musicals don’t measure up to opera singers. Yes, I was aware that Russell Crowe’s singing was not first rate. But I didn’t feel that it detracted from his performance–and maybe it even added to it.

He seemed very believable in a difficult role. He brought nuance to it. His inner struggle was something I could relate to. At times, he even moved me–more so than some instances where I was supposed to be moved. I haven’t seen him in very many movies, but he was great in one of my long-time favorites, L.A. Confidential, where he also played an officer of the law, a corrupt, head-bashing Hollywood cop who is redeemed by the love of Kim Basinger.

let’s hear it for the pub voice

English: Russell Crowe

English: Russell Crowe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m definitely not the only one who thinks Crowe did well in the role of Javert. Here’s an excerpt from a post in the Hollywood Prospectus blog on Grantland, by Charles B. Pierce, In Defense of the Pub-Voiced Russell Crowe in Les Miserables.

[Crowe] doesn’t have the big moment that Anne Hathaway does — after, of course, she gets beaten to a pulp in the most extended filmic martyrdom since Mel Gibson got a hold of the Gospels — and he doesn’t have the ongoing halo that surrounds everything Hugh Jackman does, but, in a very strange way, and in a way I never did with Javert either in the novel or in the straight dramatic movies made out of it, I identified with his character because he seemed like the only ordinary bloke on the screen.

Javert is an impossible character, the most rigid person in literature except, possibly, for Ahab, who at least has a deep personal wrong to be avenged. But Crowe manages to humanize him and, because he does, Crowe’s the only real actor in the film. Everybody else — except the comic-opera Thenardiers, whose every appearance had me wishing for a general cholera outbreak — is a saint with celestial pipes.

I’d watch the movie again, if only to see if my original impressions hold up. Have you seen it? What do you think?

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