Before I begin on writing this review, allow me to state this very clearly: there are only 3 ways you will see this movie. By “ways”, I mean the perspective that you have entering the theater. These perspectives will change what you think of this film IMMEDIATELY – even before the previews start.
Here are the perspectives:
1) You have seen the musical on Broadway, or part of the National Tour, or in London, or the 25th Anniversary concert on PBS. You probably have seen it multiple times.
2) You have either read the obscenely lengthy novel by Victor Hugo OR you have seen a movie adaption of the story, possibly the 1994 version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Danes, and Uma Thurman.
3) You have no frame of reference for either the story or the musical, having seen neither.
Those perspectives change what your reaction to this film will be.
Here are your probable reactions that match the perspectives:
1) You will dislike some aspect of this version. Guaranteed.
2) You wonder why the actors have to sing seemingly every line. It annoys you. You’d like just a sentence or two of just straight dialogue.
3) You think the acting is pretty awesome, but you could do without some of the songs.
Regardless of what else I may say, these perspectives alter what you may think of this filmed version of this adored musical. I know that promoters love to hype things, but the phrase “one of the most beloved musicals of our time” really is not quite accurate. Les Miserables as a musical is simply THE most beloved. Cats may have run longer, Phantom of the Opera may have made more money, but I don’t see either one of those enjoying the success that belongs to Les Miserables .
Okay, so now on to the “players” of this film. Tom Hooper directs. He did “The King’s Speech”. Very nicely done – he got an Oscar to prove it. Hugh Jackman was cast as bread-thief Jean Valjean, and Russsell Crowe is cast as Javert, the policeman that hunts the criminal Valjean. Anne Hathaway plays the tragic Fantine, the single-mother-turned-unwilling-prostitute. Amanda Seyfried is Cosette, Valjean’s adopted daughter. Eddie Redmayne is Marius, Cosette’s love-interest and student-turned-revolutionary. Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter play the villainous Thenardiers. Newcomer Samantha Barks play Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, who is in love with Marius. The film is produced by Cameron Mackintosh (the creator of the musical). The music is all courtesy of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of the music for the musical.
Now, allow me to speak to few technical aspects of the film. The makeup of this film is OUTSTANDING, to the point that I would give the Oscar to “Les Misérables” without question. The look of Valjean at the beginning of the film is such a transformation that I did not even see Hugh Jackman. The job that was done on Anne Hathaway for her prostitute look was superb! In the vein, I also though the costumes were stellar as well! I don’t know that it is guaranteed an Oscar, but it will certainly be in the running. It will be up against the stiff competition of “The Hobbit” and “Lincoln” to be sure.
Okay, so now that I have gotten my technical joys of the film out of the way, and told you who was cast in the film, and whom the powers behind it are, allow me to state some not-so great things about this film. The editing of “Les Misérables” is lack-luster to say the least. If it is not the editor’s fault, then the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hooper. There’s a lot of choppiness to the film as the story progresses and that was more than a little disconcerting. In fact, for “Bring Him Home” this choppiness reaches its apex and it ruined the scene for me entirely. The song is a sweet prayer and to have it broken up by the camera movement as it follows Valjean through the ruined tavern was atrocious!
As for the pacing of the film, Tom Hooper took a major misstep. There are scenes where the film jumps from one song piece to another with nothing in between the two points. There wasn’t any dialogue, sung or otherwise, there to serve as a bridge. There wasn’t a sweeping score to carry you from point A to point B. In other words, there was no build up, no pause to serve as the “breath” you take in between belting out those songs. I didn’t like that aspect of the film AT ALL. I know this isn’t the musical – of which I am a fan – but this is about pacing the film, which is in the hands of the director. In this case, it should have been in the hands of someone more suited to the task. Hooper’s direction is good, and I enjoy his close-ups on the actor’s as they sing, but there are moments where a wider angle would have served the film better. His over-head shots are a little too contrite to be useful here and there were far too many of them in the movie.
When it comes to performances, Jackman’s portrayal of Valjean during “Valjean's Soliloquy” is one of the greatest scenes ever from a filmed musical. It is heart-wrenching and Jackman deserved a standing ovation right then and there! Jackman’s performance is unique to the character, namely because of this this singing-live approach to the film. There are prettier voices for Valjean. There could be better actors for Valjean. Truth is, in this version of the tale, Jackman does a marvelous job. I believe as an actor this is THE performance of his career. He was frightening to behold at first – and unrecognizable. He looked French, if there is such a look. I just thought he did a great job at acting his way through this film. Sadly, there are noticeable lacking moments in his vocal talent. In particular, “Bring Him Home” was a travesty. I was uncertain if it was the pacing of the film, the choppy editing, the weird camera angles, or just a rushed performance by Jackman that was to blame. Regardless, it is without question the worst version of this song I have ever seen performed.
I was blown away by Amanda Seyfried’s voice – how does she DO that??? She sounded like a songbird, truly. I don’t remember her sounding like that in “Mama Mia” either. But you know what? I liked her singing as Cosette and I thought she was perfectly cast in the part. Eddie Redmayne I did not know at all (I have not seen him in “My Week with Marilyn”) but I thought he was pretty terrific as Marius. His performance during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is beyond brilliant. How he was able to cry like that and then pull back from that emotion to continue singing was a stunning display of control!
Anne Hathaway has created what I am sure will go down in the history books as the most impressive performance of Fantine EVER. I guess when you have seen it performed on stage, you get used to the vocal stylings used for "I Dreamed a Dream” and you come to expect it. You judge each actress on how she sings that song. It is perfectly natural to do so. That’s one of the 3 IT songs from the musical, and you CANNOT stress enough how important that song is to the whole story. Anne’s performance during that song is STUPENDOUS. It is fragile, vulnerable, and filled with heart-break. Her acting throughout the song is more than Oscar-worthy. I saw so much coming through in her performance there that I was stunned. I love the “pretty” versions of that song (to quote Anne herself), but I have to say that for this movie her way of performing the song was THE way to go and man, is it good!
As for Russell Crowe, well he was fine as Javert. I heard a lot of people criticizing his singing in this film. I didn’t find it all that bad. I love Javert as a character; I find him to be a very complex character and there is just something very intriguing to the role. (Everybody always wants to state who they would be in the musical, which character they would want to play, well mine is Javert.) The Inspector is supposed to be ‘the bad guy” I know, but he’s this wonderfully determined policeman that just won’t quit. I admire that. Anyway, Crowe’s performance as a singer was pretty good I thought, but his acting wasn’t as great as it could have been. I expected more from the Inspector. That’s just my opinion.
The WORST aspect of the “Les Misérables” was Sacha baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers. “Master of the House” was utterly awful in this film because it lacked any real charm. These characters are meant as the comic relief in the musical and there is this Disney-esque villain quality to them: you dislike them but they are somehow charming nevertheless. My problem with these two actors being cast in these roles was that neither of them seemed to enjoy their parts. The acting wasn’t particularly funny – if anything it was the one thing it should NOT have been: campy. The songs were butchered to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. The way in which Hooper decided to shoot “Master of the House” was dull, witless, and completely without any real passion for the project. It seemed to me that Hooper didn’t care enough about this part of the film to make it worthwhile. It is meant to be a rousing number in the musical, and filmed-version or not, it should have been the same here. The humor that Cohen and Carter attempted to through into the movie was completely out of place and inappropriate – not to mention the “Master of the Feast” version in this film was uninspired and “the Moon Looks Down” is omitted from the film entirely.
The cameo performance by the great Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne was an absolute delight. His usage in the film will bring any fan of the musical to tears. His serves as the voice of God and it is beyond symbolic when the Bishop gives Valjean the candlesticks. That scene was worth the price of admission right there. If you don’t know Colm, you should really acquaint yourself through DVD, YouTube, or a CD or two. He is an amazing performer! Colm was the original Valjean & has portrayed the character more times on stage than any other actor. Frances Ruffelle, the original Eponine from the Broadway & West End productions of the musical also has a cameo as prostitute. Her voice is unmistakable!
I didn’t care much for the students either. The actors who portrayed them in the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Misérables” were fantastic by comparison. I felt nothing for them or their revolution, sadly. Aaron Tveit was Enjolras, the leader of the students and he was adequate at best. But why – in the name of all that is sacred – does Gavroche have to have SUCH a thick British accent? I have never understood that aspect and I find it so out of place with the story. It throws me every time I see the musical, in any form. The young boy that plays him in the film is Daniel Huttlestone, and he did a fine job. I just cannot stand that accent being used in this FRENCH story.
Overall, there were aspects of the film I loved, and others that I out-right hated. All I can say is that for any fan of the musical, there is bound to be some aspect of “Les Misérables” that you will not like. If you want to see the stellar acting and singing performances of Seyfried, Redmayne, Hathaway, and Jackman then you MUST go see this film! The problem I felt with the film was that these standout numbers have no bookends. There is no sweeping score to move you from point A to point B. There is almost no dialogue – sung or otherwise – to serve as that bridge between the big numbers either. I would have preferred to see those in the film, no matter what the runtime would have ended up being. I was not utterly disappointed in the film, though. Please don’t assume that. I really enjoyed a great number of parts in the film! I just believe that Hooper or somebody needed to understand that those bridges NEED to be there for this story to work. Oh, and the casting of the Thenardiers was WRONG.
Take your perspective and go see the film. I am curious to hear what everybody thinks of “Les Misérables”. Are you in agreement with me? Am I way off base? I’d love to hear back from readers on this review most especially.
…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE