Why is Russell Crowe so Reviled in ‘Les Miserables’?

Russell Crowe in Les Miserables

Oscar winner Russell Crowe is generally revered by most as a highly talented actor having starred in award winning films such as Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. However, his performance in the smash hit film adaptation of Broadway’s Les Miserables seems to be one performance that left a bad taste in the mouths of many diehard theatre goers. Why? Well simply put, Russell Crowe can’t sing.

In the film, Crowe plays the pivotal role of Inspector Javert, a character that has his sights set on Jean Valjean. His character is both intriguing and powerful, neither of which come across well in the film. The Hollywood Gossip contributor Hilton Hater characterizes Crowe’s lackluster performance as “The policeman is tasked with two solos, the final of which typically concludes – SPOILER ALERT – with a beautifully held long note, as Javert plunges to his death. But the movie cuts the song short, removing the drama from this suicide and symbolizing the problem with Crowe’s casting in general: you never forget that Russell Crowe is trying to sing like Inspector Javert. One of the best actors of his generation stands out, when he should be disappearing into the character.”

Writer and journalist Celeste Headlee expanded on this idea in a blog post saying, “Russell Crowe’s singing is awful.  On a purely technical level, it’s laughable; on an aesthetic level, it’s horrendous.  In the Les Mis montage last night at the Oscars, the cast appeared on stage singing the stirring anthem “One Day More” to great effect and I was moved… until Crowe entered and nearly ruined it.  It was as if a foghorn had started blowing in the middle of a Sousa march and was as distracting as the cowbell in that classic SNL skit.”

While the sentiment may be a bit harsh, she’s certainly not alone in her disdain for Crowe’s vocal chops. Even American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, who himself is a theatre veteran starring in musicals like Wicked, had negative reviews of Crowe’s performance. He took to Twitter to voice his thoughts sharing, “Les Mis: Visually impressive w great Emotional performances. But the score suffered massively with great actors PRETENDING to be singers. It’s an opera. Hollywoods movie musicals treat the singing as the last priority. (Dreamgirls was good).” He preceded that tweet with, “I felt like I should ignore the vocals and focus on the emotional subtext- but the singing was so distracting at times it pulled me out.” He did praise the performances of others in the film though saying, “One more clarification: DO go see it for Anne Hathaways performance. It’s was breathtaking.”

Surprisingly, Crowe did not disagree with Lambert’s assessment. He responded to the critique on Twitter posting, “I don’t disagree with Adam, sure it could have been sweetened, Hooper wanted it raw and real, that’s how it is.” Tom Hooper’s film version of the musical features live performances of all songs without the tracks being dubbed over.

The issue that many viewers doesn’t lie in the fact that Crowe cannot sing, but moreso that he still cast in the role of Javert despite this talent flaw. Rich Knight, a writer, wrote in an article, “Playing Inspector Javert, who has always been portrayed as a powerful baritone in stage productions, Russell Crowe could only hit a single note. In fact, as soon as he opened his mouth everyone realized that Les Miserables, while good, could never be great. Russell Crowe can simply not sing. His reach is just not there, and in an Oscar winning musical, everybody has to be great. Not just good, but great.”

In a latter part of her article Celeste Headley states, “Let me be clear: if Russell Crowe were sitting at home singing along with his double CD set of the original Les Mis production, I would cheer him.  But he was paid millions to play a major role in a musical and I would argue that his inability to execute the vocal lines skillfully made the movie weaker and less effective.”

Hopefully, for the sake of audiences everywhere, Crowe and other casting directors have learned from the harsh criticism that fell like an avalanche upon Crowe. When it comes to roles that require a combination of singing and acting, it is critical that the actor considered be a star in both respects like co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Overlooking talent flaws in an actor simply amplifies them when they are surrounded by a star studded cast who nail the emotion of a scene as well as the depth of the vocals.

Author: Diamond Grant