Now's a good time for some full, geeky disclosure: I'm borderline obsessed with the musical Les Miserables. When news that the movie musical was coming out, starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and Russell Crowe as Javert, directed by The King's Speech's Tom Hooper, it seemed like a no-fail formula for this fan, who first fell in love with the musical after watching an airing of the 10th Anniversary Concert.
From the heart-wrenching, beautiful score to the tender acts of compassion, desperation, and love to the complex, fragile, fallible, emotionally wretched characters, there's a reason this musical is a classic and that fans are waiting with bated breath for this film. Though nothing compares to seeing this musical live, I had high expectations that this version could perhaps pave the way for a whole new generation to fall in love with Les Mis. Read on for mild spoilers and to see if the film succeeded in doing so.
When the first trailer was released, with Anne Hathaway's haunting, more sedated version of "I Dreamed a Dream," many assumed that Hooper was going to "tone down" the music a bit -- change some parts of the songs the singers have to belt so it was more emotionally raw, as these songs' power could be difficult to portray without hearing them live. I was expecting the score to get this treatment ... but it didn't pan out that way.
Most of the original score is in tact. And it features one emotional punch after the other (after the other). There's also new music, and they cut very little out (though, sidebar, Eponine fans will be very disappointed that they edited out portions of "A Little Fall of Rain", which is insane); this may not translate well with those not familiar with the musical, as the sheer size and scope and numerous characters of the film, plus the fact that they're singing everything, can be overwhelming enough.
But the squalor and filth of early nineteenth-century France and the revolutionary battle with the students at the end were a treat to see on film. You're more easily transported to and feel the authenticity of this world in the movie than in the musical for obvious logistical reasons. Then of course, for the intimate moments, there was close-up after close-up and teary-faced performance after teary-faced performance. The actors give their all, showing what a brilliant decision it was to sing these songs "live" instead of lip syncing. Non-fans may be turned off by the repetitive nature of these shots; however, those who are familiar with and love the songs will be swept away by these performances, even the group songs, which could have been cheesy but were filmed as convincingly and effectually as possible.
The best performance by far was courtesy of Anne Hathway. "I Dreamed a Dream" was shot in one, long, heartbreaking, devastating take, with tears streaming and voice shaking, and caused the audience at our screening to burst into applause. It was the highlight of the movie for me, which was kind of a shame since it occurred in the first half hour of the two-and-a-half-hour-long film.
Hugh Jackman was able to give an effusive depth to Valjean that only film can; at times the shots were so close up that it felt borderline awkward. His singing voice was strong per usual, with his musical background definitely an aid, though "Bring Him Home" was out of his range. Eddie Redmayne was a sweet surprise as love-struck Marius, Samantha Barks, whom I first saw on the 25th Anniversary Concert, was an amazing Eponine as predicted -- just watch her here -- and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter kept the otherwise dreary tale lighthearted and humorous.
The two actors who struggled were Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Russell Crowe as Javert (a personal disappointment, as Javert is one of my favorite characters -- if they had cast Philip Quast, I would have combusted). Their voices just didn't have the range and punch of their other castmates; Jackman clearly out-dueled Crowe every time they sang together on screen.
But, the bottom line: Fans of the musical are going to love it. Seeing and hearing the score you're so familiar with come to life in the theater was emotionally transformative. I was tearing up five minutes in. It was thrilling to see the musical shown on the big screen after so much hype, and what a welcome reminder once again why so many people have fallen and continue to fall in love with the amazing music and story that is Les Mis.
Here's the trailer one more time!
Are you going to see Les Miserables? It comes out Christmas Day!
Image via LesMiserablesFilm.com