The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

In defence of Russell Crowe’s singing

with 31 comments

I didn’t know a lot about Les Misérables before I watched it the other night.

I hadn’t read the novel it’s based on; I had never seen it performed on a stage and I wasn’t familiar with the music.

I knew one thing though: that I should keep my hands ready so I could put them over my ears as soon as Russell Crowe opened his mouth. It seemed as if the critics were divided about Les Mis, but if there was one thing everyone agreed on it was this: Russell Crowe was the worst singer ever.

So I sat there, hands up and ready, waiting for it. I imagined I would be exposed to something along the lines of the “singing” by my dear father, who – bless him – despite being tone-deaf loved to hum or talk his ways through songs, where the text was the only clue to which song it was intended to be since he just hit random notes, if any at all.

But what I got wasn’t anything near the performance of my father. It was – as far as I’m concerned – perfectly acceptable singing, well suited to the somewhat rough, edgy character he was supposed to play. If I had issues with any of the singers in the movie, it would rather concern the trained ones. A concert like pitch perfect vibrato risks to sound as strangely polished if you’re standing on the barricades fighting for your life. More like a concert than a piece of real drama.

However I’m not going to complain about any of the singers. I loved them all, polished or non-polished, as I loved the entire movie. Once I got over the first five minutes of “WTF, people are singing instead of talking” shock that is unavoidable when watching musicals, I was completely wrapped up in it.

I didn’t need quite as many napkins as the reputation of the film ad lead me to believe; I stopped at getting a bit dusty in my eyes a few times during the night.

The scene that moved me most wasn’t Anne Hathaway crying her heat out while shaving her hair. I was more gripped by the character Jean Valjean. Living as an outcast he takes shelter one night at the place of a priest. The next morning he takes off with the silver. As he is caught by the police, the priest doesn’t turn him in. Instead he saves Valjean, insisting that the stuff he took was a gift. He even offers him a pair of chandeliers, saying that Valjean had forgotten them. This act of love becomes a life changer for Valjean, who from now on tries live a caring, unselfish life while escaping from his nemesis Javert.

Les Misérables is big, beautiful and shamelessly sentimental. I can understand that it’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

I left the theatre, satisfied as if I’d just had a delicious five-course dinner with the freedom song of the rebels ringing in my ears. This is a meal I’d be happy to eat again.

Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, UK 2012) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

January 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

Posted in Les Misérables

31 Responses

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  1. Haha. I love the title, because I saw this again this week with my sister and when it was done I was giving her insight into the lack of love for the film and when I came to Crowe she said, “But he sounded fine.” Which were my thoughts. I thought the coolness of his voice suited Javert. Sure other Javert’s have sounded finer, but he was good to my ears.

    I love your last three sentences.

    (I’m still parsing through my thoughts but I’d love a fuller review from you when you get the time. I too didn’t find it was tear inducing, not a criticism, though I was most moved at that particular scene with young Gavroche then Marius’ later sadness at those who were no more)

    Andrew K.

    January 21, 2013 at 1:09 am

    • I think we’re on the same page here. I’m afraid I can’t promise you a fuller review, considering my current lack of time available for blog writing. But I’m sure I’ll return to this film on otheroccasions over the year including when it’s time to make the top list for 2013. Yes,in my world this is a 2013 movie.


      January 21, 2013 at 7:36 pm

  2. I loved it, too. It (and Anna Karennina) really made a special few days during the Christmas break for my wife and me. We had such a great time talking about them over dinner and wine. The first time in a long time I’ve been able to sincerely gush over movies.

    We also finally discovered Downton Abbey over the break, and watched every episode in a week. It was like our Holiday was spent in another century.

    I’m curious why AK received so little praise. Have you reviewed it? Maybe it was the wine and company?


    January 21, 2013 at 3:37 am

    • Anna Karenina won’t open here until later this spring. Being a fan of the previous work of the director, most recently Hanna, I can’t wait to see it, regardless of the cool reception it got overseas.


      January 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm

  3. You have captured my feelings EXACTLY. Even thought I believe Hugh Jackman’s singing far outclasses Russell Crowe, I thought Crowe was still fine. Additionally Crowe nailed the emotional component to his character perfectly. I am so happy to read a positive spin on this film. It’s an extraordinary musical and one I think that will stand the test of time. Thank you!

    Mark Hobin

    January 21, 2013 at 5:29 am

    • Thanks Mark! That’s exactly my sentiment: this will stand the test of time. I can’t imagine anyone making another musical version on the screen. This is THE film adaption imo.


      January 21, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  4. I will say that Crowe’s singing is fine for any random person. Hell, he probably sings better than half the actors in Hollywood. Still, for someone in a musical, I found him lacking the necessary extra “oompf!”. You know, that real power to move with song. None of his numbers really touched me in this film. Unfortunate.

    But I still loved the film. Like you, this was my first exposure to Les Miserables, and I have become so infatuated with the music. Various songs have been stuck in my head all weekend – checking out some other recordings of the tunes haven’t helped, I guess – and I find myself really wanting to see the film again to really suss out my feelings on it.


    January 21, 2013 at 7:24 am

    • I’ve got a crush on this film just like you. This is a film that I’d be happy to see – and listen to – again.


      January 21, 2013 at 7:39 pm

  5. Crowe was fine enough but it was weaker than everyone else’s and I thought it made his character less intimidating. I thought it would have worked better with a big, booming voice, not one that feels like it’s straining for a lot of the film. It didn’t in any way hamper my enjoyment of the film though, I loved it 🙂

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    January 21, 2013 at 11:03 am

    • I can agree that he didn’t feel as threatening and intimidating as you might expect. If I had any criticism against the choice of him, it had nothting to do with the singing. It was the fact that he seemed like a pretty nice person. There’s something plain and harmless about Russell Crowe. But in the end, as things turned out, I realized that this was on purpose. My interpretation is that we not necessarily just should see him as a monster. He’s more like us – a common, human being with all the flaws we have, not able to reach the spirituality that the hero has found.


      January 21, 2013 at 7:42 pm

  6. I didn’t have issues with his singing either! And as for the movie I really liked it.


    January 21, 2013 at 11:46 am

    • Yay! That makes two of us! Without having solid statistics to prove it, I have the feeling that it’s more popular among European critics and bloggers than it is in US.


      January 21, 2013 at 7:47 pm

  7. I just love this blog post! The title of it and sticking up for Russell Crowe, I actually enjoy the style he sings in the film and think it really fits well with his actor and the character.


    January 21, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    • Thanks! After the massive criticism he has gotten I was prepared for something horrendous. It turned out not to be the case. So I thought someone ought to speak up and give a different view.


      January 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      • I was pleased to see someone did as I was beginning to think I was alone! I mean they way people have been going on is like he was Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!


        January 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        • Exactly! This said: I actually liked seeing Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! Despite his lack of singing ability.


          January 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

  8. Watched it today (på bio) using your recommendation. Nice touchy musical. Had no problem with singing.. Few problems with acting, but it’s musical: singing is so much more important, And it was good. Thank you.


    January 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    • Yay! It makes me so happy to hear that you actually went to see it and that you liked it, as I thought you would. Someone is actually listening to my advice. 🙂


      January 21, 2013 at 11:01 pm

  9. Very nice. Looking forward to this film. From what I heard so far (from clips), Crowe’s singing is pretty decent.


    January 23, 2013 at 8:54 am

    • Absolutely. I don’t necessarily a professional singer’s voice would be better for the purpose.


      January 23, 2013 at 10:13 pm

  10. It is strange to see the film if you have seen the stage musical (err, possibly even a few times), the singing was fine but it is a different experience. IMO singers in musicals tell the story via their singing as well as acting, film actors tell the story via their acting and also sing.

    So I enjoyed the film a lot, although neither Crowe nor Jackman’s singing was really where it could have been. (You need to listen to one of the original soundtracks to compare, really.) But the acting was great all round, and the whole row of the cinema next to me was in tears by the end. Also thought it was cool that the bishop was played by the guy who played the original (I think) Valjean on stage.


    January 23, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    • Oh and Marius knocked ‘Empty chairs at empty tables’ out of the park, that was utterly awesome.


      January 23, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    • I can imagine that the perspective is slightly different if you’ve seen it performed live. For me it was a first-time encounter, and I fell in love right away.


      January 23, 2013 at 10:17 pm

  11. […] at The Velvet Café gives us her thoughts on Tom Hooper’s Les […]

  12. I too come at the film with many, many years of listenings (and viewings) of the stage show and Crowe just didn’t cut it. At risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly critic, the only members of the cast who really cut it were Hathaway, Redmayne (amazing!!!), Seyfried (the role really is that vanilla) and Barks.

    I was underwhelmed by the film. I am usually in tears within 15 minutes in the stage show (even when I saw it in Spanish) and I was hardly moved for the whole film. Didn’t hate it but it wasn’t what it could have been.

    Michael Scott

    January 26, 2013 at 7:00 am

    • Well I suppose you can get a different experience if you’ve seen it on stage before.


      January 27, 2013 at 9:55 pm

  13. On that note, here…

    He’s a fellow Aussie (well, Crowe’s actually a Kiwi but we claim him) and a phenomenal actor to boot. He’d have knocked the role out of the park!

    Michael Scott

    January 26, 2013 at 7:09 am

    • I don’t deny he’s a more qualified singer, but I’m not so sure he’d been better for the part tbh. But I guess it’s a matter of taste.


      January 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm

  14. […] Les Miserables From my review: […]

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