Earlier this year I saw a preview/trailer for yet another movie version of “Les Miserables.” There have been many movies made based on this story, but this one was going to be different. It was to be based on the Broadway musical! Moreover, the filming technique is something that has never been done before. The actors both acted and sang their musical roles. The full orchestral score was recorded AFTER filming and tailored to the singing of the actors. (It’s usually done the other way around.) The trailer alone gave me the chills and a teary eye!
It opened Christmas day and I vowed to see it. It is a vow I have kept; Amanda and I saw it last night. While excited, I had my doubts about this endeavour. Cameron Mackintosh was essentially trying to bridge the genres of Hollywood and Broadway in a way that had never been tried before. Movies have been made of musicals and musicals have been made of movies, but usually with great liberty and sacrifice of some core material. At nearly 160 minutes, I had hopes that there would be little of either of these. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. I have listened to the Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Miserables dozens of times over the years, seen the 25th Anniversary Concert (DVD) and seen the musical on stage. It’s fair to say I know the show well. This proved somewhat frustrating as I did note some omissions–some glaring, some subtle. But my observation in this regard is likely atypical. More casual fans aren’t likely to notice, for example, that Valjean’s lines, “I run a business of repute, I am the mayor of this town” are juxtaposed in the factory scene. (Although, now YOU will!)
The biggest concern I had was about the casting. I saw Russell Crowe cast as Javert and winced, thinking only of Pierce Brosnan in “Mamma Mia.” OK, so the guy’s easy on the eyes and has a British accent; but dear GOD, never let him sing!! Crowe can carry a tune, however. His singing voice is rather pleasant, but lacked the…the…the “dark power” I have always conjured in my mind and come to expect in other performances of Javert. “Stars” did not move me, and it usually does. Hugh Jackman was awesome, but I expected that. The only defect I saw in his performance was his rendition of “Bring Him Home.” I believe it was written to be sung falsetto in parts. Jackman stuck to his natural vocal range and it seemed forced. Eddie Redmayne’s Marius was spot-on. Amanda Seyfried (also from “Mamma Mia”) was amazing as Cosette. She was no slouch in “Mamma Mia,” but she really blew me away. I think perhaps she’s had some coaching. Her range is incredible. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers were brilliant, but I knew they would be. And Anne Hathaway’s Fantine was sublime. Anyone without a tear in their eye after “I Dreamed A Dream” simply doesn’t have a soul.
If none of that convinces you to go see this movie, then go to see and hear Samantha Barks as Eponine. If you saw the 25th Anniversary Concert, then you’ve already seen her. Mackintosh tagged her to reprise the role in this film and her performance was flawless. The victim of unrequited love, she makes you feel it right along with her. You can almost forget you’re watching an actress playing a part–it’s like she’s really living it, and you’re living it right along with her. “Heart-wrenching” is barely adequate.
I could nitpick all day–there were little things that could have, that should have been different. Fantine’s afterlife self should have had long hair, for example. If I recall the stage performance I saw, Valjean’s prisoner brand is on his chest and he rips open his shirt in the courtroom when he confesses that Javert has the wrong man in custody. But none of my nitpickings should dissuade any fan from seeing this film. However, if you’re looking for a Broadway performance on film, you will be disappointed. If you’re looking for a traditional Hollywood Musical, ditto. This is something new–something different. I liked it. I hope you do too!