Twenty five years ago I moved to NYC and Les Miserables was the big musical that year. I've seen many live performances and numerous Jean Valjeans (country singer Gary Morris was actually my favorite). Like most theater geeks, I've been looking forward to this sung-through musical finally coming to the big screen.
As a theater freak, I've also read all the reviews, followed the postings of theater lovers weighing in on forums, and watched every clip of the show before seeing it in the theater. (I often think how musicals like The Sound of Music would have faired had the internet been around where every theater fan could chime in on their thoughts.) Unfortunately I was sick Christmas Day when I had tickets to see it, but I finally felt well enough to leave the house and see it this morning.
Let me first say - I love movie musicals. I grew up on them. I have no problem when a character breaks out into song. Some movies have transferred very well while others have had some major problems on the big screen. From Moulin Rouge to Chicago and even parts of Sweeney Todd - I've enjoyed what Hollywood has given us.
Director Tom Hooper definitely has a vision for his Les Miz and for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the vision that he supplied. He took us off the turntable that was the stage show and gave us locations that evoked the period and made sense. Yes - he has a love for closeups...but in some cases, it made the moment all the more moving. (Other times I was wishing he would just pull back and let us see something else.)
There has been so much said about the live singing in this show and it really did change the movie for me. The fact we knew they were in the moment performing these numbers felt completely different from that of a dubbed vocal. I had no issue with the orchestrations that others have complained about. I found it very beautiful and moving.
There are also some pretty inspired casting choices. Anne Hathaway was so moving and earthy as Fantine. I absolutely loved her. She deserves all the praise being given to her now. Eddy Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried and Aaron Tveit each bring wonderful life to the younger characters in this epic tale (even though they don't appear until midway through the film). There were things about each of their performances that I could pull out and rave about and several of them brought me to tears in moments of their performances. Even Russell Crowe who is getting a bad rap on most theater forums did not bother me as Javert. (Goes to show watching clips does not help.) I thought I was not going to like his performance, but I actually saw depth there to this man who spends way too many years chasing down a convict. As far as Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen - I don't think I need to see them in another musical (however...to be fair, I've never been fans of those characters in the musical).
And then there is Hugh Jackman.
The man who took a mediocre musical like The Boy From Oz and turned it into a smash because of his incredible performance. The Wolverine that shows he can do much more on screen than fight. The performance he gives in the prologue of this musical as a scrawny prisoner is so amazing. His song "What Have I Done?" (before the musical actually takes off) had me in tears just from his performance. I have such respect for him as a performer and that he can show that an actor can do so many things. But something strange (for me) happened in this movie. Once he was out of a jail and starting a new life - he began to fade into the background. I tried to think that perhaps it was because the director had him alone so much (in a carriage, walking in the woods, etc) - but that wasn't it. Too many of the other characters seemed to have higher stakes at that point that I never noticed the umpteen times I've seen this show on stage. It's not that his performance was bad...it simply lost some of the power that he had at the start. And then there is his biggest song "Bring Him Home". The one song many people know even if they don't know the show. I've seen Jackman on talk shows saying how hard it was to do that song. They lowered the key. They put it back. I honestly wish they would have gone back in the studio and dubbed this one song. I think it would have helped the entire piece if they could have just gotten that song correct. Again: just a personal opinion. (It didn't stop me from shedding a tear for him by movie's end.)
I'm glad to see musicals continuing to be made into movies and I hope it continues. I also love when a director gives a nod to those that originated roles as well. To see the original Jean Valjean as the Bishop and Eponine as a "Lovely Lady" was also really great.
Carve out three hours and go see this film. And then come back here and leave me your thoughts too. I'd love to hear what you think!