Where have Hollywood’s high standards gone? I suppose we’ve been asking that question since about 1936, so maybe by now it’s useless. I suppose I expect better from an Academy Award-winning director bringing a Tony Award-winning musical to the big screen. Les Misérables’ swooping, ultra-zoomed camera work and CGI effects were distracting enough, but the singing of many of the film’s main characters left me wishing for earmuffs after the first sixty minutes.
Adam Lambert succinctly summed up many of my thoughts on the casting problems with this latest iteration of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel:
“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.”
To which Russell Crowe, probably the biggest albatross in the entire production, responded:
“I don’t disagree with Adam,sure it could have been sweetened,Hooper wanted it raw and real,that’s how it is”
I think he was missing the point of Lambert’s message.
My criticisms have nothing to do with “polish”; in fact, I’d much rather have an emotional, real interpretation of a song than something sanitized for the sake of a mass audience. A raw, nuanced and physically subtle performance is one of the few benefits of filming a stage musical rather than seeing it live. This isn’t a question of performances being “sweetened”–rather, it’s a question of casting competent, if not professional, singers in the lead roles rather than actors who’d be much better in a non-musical version of the story.
Russell Crowe may be passable as a rock singer, but as Javert, he is a disaster: absolutely no vibrato, straining in both the upper and lower registers, and a general glazed look about the eyes starting in the first verse of every number. (Philip Quast, where art thou?)
So, Tom Hooper, here’s some casting advice: a list of three actors I think would have been better as Inspector Javert. Remember that many actors can play fierceness and obsession, but few actors can do that and also sing it convincingly.
3. John Travolta
Travolta’s mainly known for comedic rather than dramatic singing, but I think he could have pulled this role off. He’s already proven his singing ability in Grease and Hairspray, and though they were less than serious roles, his repeat stints as action movie villains would lend an element of menace to his interpretation.
2. Johnny Depp
Is there any doubt Depp could have been the quirkiest, darkest Javert in history? (Not to mention the best-looking.) I think he would have brought a nuance to the role that would have emphasized the character’s inner vulnerability and the root of his obsession better than the stage musical has ever been able to. He did a decent job of singing the role of the demon barber in Sweeney Todd, so we know he’s got the villain chops.
1. Christopher Lee
Though he’s my top pick, some might say Sir Christopher would be a bit too old for this part, but that’s what makeup artists are for. Villainy is in this man’s blood, so to speak. Vengeance, bloodlust, dogged pursuit…it’s all there and then some. His concept album Charlemagne proves that he’s got the voice, and his deep, throaty pipes would add some nice dimension to Javert’s songs.