Those thick, imposing, iconic sideburns, straight out of the novel. That smooth brown/later gray hair, worn in a severe ponytail that might be anachronistic but which perfectly embodies his rigid, outdated worldview and principles, and which symbolically (and sexily) comes undone in his final scene. The somber, dignified dark blue uniforms. The imposing black greatcoat. The array of hats. Every detail is a prime example of visual character-creation.
I understand why they didn’t go with this look in the movie. It has a “larger than life” quality that probably wouldn’t have meshed with modern screen realism, least of all with Russell Crowe’s softer-edged characterization. But it tells us all we need to know about Javert from the moment he appears onstage. And he looks like he walked straight out of a 19th century illustration for the novel. Look at any French illustrations from Hugo’s lifetime or soon afterwards (Bayard, Brion, Jeanniot): the other characters might look completely different from the standard images of their musical counterparts, but Javert is always recognizable!
Mélancolie. Pierre Georges Jeanniot (Swiss-born French, 1848-1934). Oil on canvas.
From 1886 on, Jeanniot started to show a certain artistic independence. He then mostly portrayed Parisian women during the Belle Epoque, women in bathing suits on the beaches, or scenes on the race course. These paintings give us a vivid sociological portrayal of his times.