Before I begin my film review of Les Misérables, let me preface my remarks by saying that I have seen the stage version four times, I have the soundtrack, and I read the book. So, this review will probably be a bit biased. Consider yourself warned. That said, after seeing the movie, I still found parts of the film version which I could critique and I still found things which seemed new to me.
Another preface, I went to see the movie with my husband, Juan, who has a strong dislike for any musicals unless they involve rock and roll or his favorite group, Kiss. Since there is almost no musical which has these elements, it’s safe to say he hates musicals. Juan has a lot of wonderful qualities but an aficionado of the arts, he’s not. I thought he was joking when he told me he once took a book to a performance of the Joffrey Ballet, but then his former wife confirmed it. Still, Juan agreed to go see the movie with me. That’s how much he loves me. Or how much he wanted to be able to mock me afterwards. Anyway, I made sure to order a large popcorn and a small soda with free re-fills, so he would have plenty of reasons to get up and refill his cup during the nearly 3 hour movie.
Okay, onto the movie. I loved it. I had seen the trailers so I knew the production values would be amazing, but I was blown away. Onstage, the only real large piece of scenery was the barricade. In the movie, all the scenes came to life with spectacular sets, costumes and cinematography. I suppose that with the minimal stage scenery, it made the singing that much more emotional. In contrast, the singing in the movie was not as powerful, but in combination with the backdrop of all the production elements, I did not feel the emotional impact of the singing in the movie was diminished, except for Russell Crowe’s singing. No amount of production elements could make up for his weak performance. In stature and appearance, Russell Crowe definately looked the part, but his singing lacked the strength and conviction of any Javert I have seen before.
Apart from Crowe’s weak performance, I thought all the other performances were very good. I was not disappointed by Hugh Jackman of Wolverine fame, playing Valjean, Amanda Seyfried’s Cossette, or Ann Hathaway as Fontine. In fact, I felt all these performances were equally as strong as any stage productions’ I’ve seen. I don’t think it’s really fair to compare the two anyway. They are very different productions. On stage, it’s a live performance, and I have never felt that the experience was that intimate, especially since I have never sat any closer than mezzanine. On a large screen with close-ups, the acting felt so much more electrifying and the characters more magnetic, even if the singing was less powerful. I have heard some criticisms about the sing/talking by Jackman and Hathaway, perhaps to make-up for their less than stellar singing voices, but it didn’t really bother me. In the emotion of the scenes’ moment I felt that sing/talking was right on. I saw an interview with Hugh Jackman in which he explained the filming process for this musical. He explained that since the film was shot with live singing, he could really experience the character in the moment, and not be concerned about hitting the lip syncing from the pre-recorded songs. I think it worked.
For me, the best part of Les Miz has never been about the singing, the acting or the scenery, rather, it is about the story. A classic morality play about redemption, God’s grace and the power of love. There were several pivotal moments in the movie where I was transported with the depth of the emotion, and of course, I was moved to tears. The first time I saw the play I came out of the theater with my blouse wet from the tears that had rolled off my face. Today, as soon as the credits rolled I made a beeline for the bathroom to splash cold water on my swollen eyes.
As for Juan, well he’s a sensitive guy but he didn’t cry, although he kept handing me napkins. I looked over at him a couple of times during the movie to see if he was enjoying it. “Enjoying” may be a strong word, but at least he wasn’t hating it. In fact, he only got up one time to re-fill his soda cup. He told me that when he went to the see the stage version with me in June, he kept thinking, ” I don’t know what’s going on”, “How soon until intermission and I can get coffee?” “When can I go to the bathroom?” At least today, he didn’t keep looking at his iPhone, and he definitely did not bring a book. Although, since Juan is such a comic book fan, he told me that he was secretly hoping that Jackman would pull out his Wolverine knives during a sword fight with Javert, and at he end of the film’s credit roll, Samuel L. Jackson would appear and recruit Valjean to join the X-Men.