I had mentioned in a previous post that I was really excited to see the movie version of Les Miserables, which opened on Christmas eve. I should have been more specific – I was nervous as all get out. They were taking something that I love, and have loved since I was twelve years old, and adapting it to the big screen. Hollywood has been hit and miss with major musical adaptations, and I was terrified that they were going to mess this up. After all, even if there is a remake, it wouldn’t be for decades. They have one shot and this was it.
They didn’t disappoint. Or at least, they didn’t disappoint much.
Spoilers abound, so read with caution if you haven’t seen this yet. And if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for!
The Good (which was most everything):
- Hugh Jackman – Holy Moses, what a performance! I knew he could sing and had major Broadway theater cred, but he was even better than I expected him to be. The transformation from bitter convict to loving father was believable and beautiful to see. I had a minor complaint about his rendition of “Bring Him Home,” but I think it was because they pitched the song too high. If they had brought it down a few keys, I think it would have been better. But I’ve also been spoiled, hearing such phenoms like Colm Wilkinson and Alfie Boe. While Jackman’s vocal chops aren’t quite up to theirs, he was still pretty damn good. “Bring Him Home” was the absolute only criticism I had of him.
- Speaking of Colm Wilkinson – how awesome was it that they honored the original Jean Valjean by casting him as the Bishop who helps save Valjean’s soul! Even though I knew he was going to be there, I still got a huge smile on my face as soon as he was on screen.
- Anne Hathaway and the entire Fantine storyline – Wow. Just wow. I thought they might go easy on this one. Fantine’s story is horrific and I do think that sometimes it is softened a bit in the stage play. Not so here. The injustice of her being thrown out of the factory and all the things she has to do later (selling everything she has, including her hair and teeth) was nothing compared to how they portrayed her becoming a prostitute. And moving the song “I Dreamed A Dream” to the point after the first time she has to sell her body is like a visceral punch in the gut. Anne Hathaway will break your heart. She is that good.
- Other casting triumphs – let’s start with the kids. Everyone has seen Isabelle Allen on the posters as little Cosette. She is perfect in the movie. “Castle on a Cloud” is both adorable and heartbreaking, as it should be. Daniel Huttlestone is also well cast as the impish Gavroche. Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter made excellent Thenardiers, as I expected them too. They were actually even better than I thought they would be and brought much needed comedy relief. And how happy was I to see Samantha Barks knock it out of the park as Eponine! I knew she could sing it, since she was in the 25th anniversary concert, but this really showed off her acting abilities, which were phenomenal.
- Singing live – they made a big deal out of this during all the press leading up to the movie release. The actors would be singing live. Not recording the songs on a sound stage somewhere and then throwing them into the finished product. They were all mic’d up and recorded as they were acting, just like it would be done if it were the stage show. I wasn’t sure how this would work, since it’s never been done this way before, but the difference is astounding. I hope they do all movie musicals like this from now on.
- The cinematography was incredible. I loved how they shot this thing.
- Bit parts – it was nice to see veterans from the London and Broadway stage cropping up in bit parts throughout the movie, most notably Hadley Fraser, Frances Ruffelle, and Killian Donnelly. I’m sure there were more, but I’ll have to go see it again to find all of them. Oh darn. 🙂
- Russell Crowe – Sigh. I knew I would be disappointed in this one and I was. I’ve never really cared for Russell Crowe as an actor, but I at least recognized his talent. He didn’t seem to be doing much acting here. I didn’t see the intensity that Javert usually has, which made the intense conflict he has at the end (which leads to his suicide) seem lackluster at best. And his singing just wasn’t there. Again, I’ve been spoiled, listening to such amazing Javerts as Philip Quast and Norm Lewis. It made me a little bit irritated (or a lot) that Hadley Fraser, who has played Javert in London brilliantly, had to be relegated to a bit part when he would have been a million times better as Javert in this film. I know they cast Russell Crowe for the name recognition, but still. It made me sad.
- Amanda Seyfried – I thought she was okay as Cosette acting-wise, but her singing was all over the place, with weird, forced sounding vibrato. It made me glad that Cosette doesn’t have as much to sing as other characters do, but at least she had the range to hit the high notes.
So yeah, a bunch of things I loved about this and really only two complaints. Not too bad, Hollywood. Not too bad. If you are a fan of the stage musical, or heck, even if you aren’t, go see Les Miserables. It was done really well. Definitely given the treatment it deserves.