After my second viewing of Les Mis on Friday night with two other COMPLETE geeks, we sat up all night (and I mean all night - thanks Merlot) discussing the merits of the film versus the stageshow whilst looking at clips of various relevant bits on YouTube (I finally get what YouTube's for!).
Anyway, one of the main things we talked about was Russell Crowe's interpretation of Javert.
It's no secret (ha! imagine if THAT was my secret!) that I am a Javert fan. I love a bit of Valjean but, really, saints ain't my thing even if they DO keep on insisting they're just a man like any other man (that's what saints do - normal people think they're special). No, I like the obsessive nature of Javert - he presents far more of a challenge.
Put it this way: if you happened across the pair of them just before closing time after a particularly boozy night in a pub, Valjean would be insisting on getting you into a cab and home safely while Javert would be ignoring you. Who would YOU go home with ...?
So yes. I'm Team Javert.
WHO AM I?
Basically, Javert's the world's ultimate Jobsworth.
The biggest mistake is to think that Javert's evil. He's absolutely not. His job is to capture bad people. If he believes Valjean is a bad person who keeps escaping, he'd not be doing his job if he didn't want to capture him.
Javert certainly doesn't think what he's doing is bad - in fact, he's absolutely, resolutely set against 'bad'. That's who Javert is. And he just wants to do his best which isn't that much different to Valjean. It's just that his best means capturing Valjean because he genuinely believes that he's a dangerous man. Why wouldn't he want to recapture him when he has gone against the law? 'I am the law and the law will not be mocked'. Admittedly, it's a bit excessive for stealing a loaf of bread but not being a creative thinker, Javert's not necessarily in a position to question that.
However, it's a misnomer that capturing Jean Valjean is all Javert wants to do. Javert's been working his way up the ranks. He starts off a prison guard in a humbling little cap, and ends up a man with silver epaulets. This is a man who has had an excellent career. Considering he's never caught Valjean, his successful career must therefore be based on other achievements. It may be a personal goal, but his work rarely suffers because of it, obviously.
Until the moment he allows Valjean to escape him. He has him in his sights but he lets him go and it breaks him. So he [spoiler alert] kills himself. He cannot exist in a world where there is grey between the black and white, so indoctrinated by the State is he, that he sees no other option.
You've got to feel for him, surely?
Now, Javert is usually depicted as a bit of an aspergersy bully who has no concept of A Time And A Place - eg: ambushing Valjean by Fantine's deathbed, infiltrating the barricade etc. The only flash of humanity is when he lets Valjean take Marius to safety. And after that, he kills himself. He's like a cyborg of grim jobsworthiness.
He is strong. Like a bull. His vocals are as powerful, if not more so, than Valjean's. This man holds all the pent up anger and brutality of a man continuously crossed.
Crowe's interpretation is very different. For a start, he's got quite a weak vocal compared to Jackme Jackman. But it's not a bad thing. It immediately sets them apart. Valjean the enduring good, Crowe the Wannabe. He has intense moral courage, but without the flexibility that Valjean shows, he flounders. He only knows the law and is only capable of reading things through this. He is alone whereas Valjean plays with others well (if a little piously).
Crowe brings a real vulnerability to the role. A real sense of a rounded person with insecurities he's always having to fight against. He's not this assured hunter - he's desperately trying to be better than he is. He doesn't hunt Valjean, Valjean happens to wander across his path - in Montrieul and in Paris. He chases him but both times - when Valjean takes Cosette and when he emerges from the sewers - he gives up pretty quickly. This man knows where he stands.
Crowe also begins his emotional collapse sooner than the traditional Javert: at the point when Valjean allows him to escape at the barricade. So by the time he pins the medal to Gavroche, he is already questioning himself - it's also a moment that is so gentle and moving that you forget it's JAVERT. That's how fresh his interpretation is.
So he's not a huge, powerful voice. The subservient, jobsworth middle-manager that Crowe creates is far more powerful to me.
Plus he gets to wear that hat without a single ounce of shame. Now THAT takes acting chops.