Review: Les Misérables

Les Misérables has been drenched in the saliva of so much internet gossip for the past year that it was easily one of the most anticipated movies of 2012, especially for us musical theatre geeks. I spent quite a significant amount of time pouring over articles, getting casting information (anyone else remember Taylor Swift being offered the role of Éponine?), and feeling anxious when I learned that Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) would have the actors sing live. It almost became a bit more hype than I wanted, and I had to scale back on how much I read beforehand, or how many pictures I wanted to see of Anne Hathaway without hair. It turns out this sort of publicity is rather traditional for the story; Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, from which the 1980s stage musical is derived, was advertised in papers and discussed up to two years prior to publishing. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

So therein lies the question: did Les Mis meet our expectations?

In case you aren’t familiar with the story (uncultured swine), Les Misérables follows the tale of convicted felon Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) on his road to redemption in 19th century France. He is released from prison on parole, and he changes his identity for a better life. While he is trying to be a reputable and charitable person, he helps a dying woman named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) by agreeing to care for her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen, then Amanda Seyfried). All the while, Valjean is hunted by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who has an Ahab-esque obsession with seeing this man put to justice.

Time goes on, and Cosette grows up and falls in love with a strapping young revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who in turn is the object of affection for Éponine (Samantha Barks), the daughter of the caregivers for Cosette when she was a child (the very silly Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter). If I explain more, I feel I may give away too much, or get so wrapped up in the thick plot that it might get a little crazy in here so I’ll leave this bare bones synopsis at that.

I thought the performances of the majority of the actors were very solid. With live singing, voices weren’t necessarily pitch perfect at every point, but it allowed for a certain amount of honesty and close-proximity acting that is required for film, as opposed to stage. Jackman, more than anything, acted like Jean Valjean in such a beautiful broken way that you felt his struggle and his need to just slip away from the world and do right for himself and others. Crowe, however, really did not quite live up to his acting abilities, and vocally couldn’t hit the mark on Javert. Being such a major and demanding role, his performance did detract from the experience.

On the other side, Redmayne is a ridiculously talented singer, and his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was both lovely and heart wrenching. He also paired well with Seyfried, reminding me of a much older era of musical singers. Barks did a spectacular job of capturing Éponine’s feigned confidence overlaying the sadness of this poor girl subject to unrequited love, even though I wanted to feed her a cheeseburger at times (seriously, the tiniest waist I’ve ever seen. I’m jealous.). Hathaway was touching as Fantine, especially with “I Dreamed a Dream.” Traditionally, this song is a grand lament of days gone by and disappointments, but Hathaway depicted a woman in the middle of a mental breakdown.

That moment was one the best in the film, and it was the best use of Hooper’s otherwise obnoxious use of camera close-ups, and tight, awkward angles. Les Mis is a grandiose, sentimental, and strongly emotional stage production, and it felt at times that Hooper did not go as big as he could have, but rather contained the scale of it. I would have liked more crane shots, more of the sets, and just grander…everything. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” is a song that makes me well up in my car when it comes on shuffle, yet the movie depicted a slow overtaking as opposed to a charging march. By the last ensemble song, it almost felt a little too late.

Of course, it can be quite easy to nit-pick such a beloved piece. It may not be Chicago in the sense of modern Broadway to Film adaptations, but it sure as hell isn’t Rent. I really enjoyed it, and would gladly watch it several times over, even if it’s just to sing along. Okay, it’s mostly to sing along, in which case I need to not watch it in the theatre anymore.

Sarah’s Rating: 7.5/10

PS: This link leads to my favorite version of “The Confrontation” ever.


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