When waiting for a movie to come out, often times anticipation plays with our mind. When we finally see the movie, it doesn’t live up to the hype that we imagine the final product will be. Often times, even though we have a pre-conceived notion of what the movie will be and how it will look, as well as what choices the director and actors will make, it just doesn’t hit the mark somehow. There’s no denying I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Les Miserables movie. I even wrote a post about the women of Les Miserables (which you can read here). Although it is not the first film adaptation of the classic Victor Hugo novel, it is the first adaptation of the musical, which itself is adapted from the novel. I have been following the progression of this film from the first announcement, to casting announcements, to the first leaked pictures, to the first trailer, TV spots, and even random cast members on talk shows. I couldn’t get enough clips and literally could not wait any longer to see the movie. Would the hype of the movie ultimately ruin it for me? Would it be everything I had imagined it to be? Would it be a bigger let down than Mockingjay of the Hunger Games series? So many questions were finally answered when I saw the movie on Christmas Eve.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Les Miserables begins by introducing us to Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convict who served 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. After he is paroled by the no-nonsense Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), he realizes he cannot exist with his old identity because his papers have labeled him a dangerous man. After a chance encounter with a bishop, Valjean vows to be a better and honest man. Over the course of the movie, you witness the story of a student revolution, a mother’s unwavering love for her child, a love triangle, and finally a story of redemption, all told with an amazing score and incredible songs.
Ok, I cannot wait anymore to tell you what I thought of the movie. I absolutely loved it. I thought it was one of the best musical movies ever made. One thing which made it one of the best musicals ever made was the decision to sing live while the cameras were rolling, as opposed to pre-recording the songs. With live singing, you experience the emotions the actors were trying to get across. The songs came across much more genuine than they would have had the actors pre-recorded the songs. Although this is not the first time an actor has sung live on the set (I believe Rex Harrison sang live for My Fair Lady), this is the first time 100% of the scenes in a musical were sung live 100% of the time. It was an incredibly intimate way to portray the story of Les Miserables, and it worked perfectly. I hope more musicals decide to try this in the future.
The performance of the movie was none other than Anne Hathaway as the factory worker-turned-prostitute Fantine. From her first scene to her last scene (over the course of 20 minutes), she captivates the audience with her portrayal of this tragic character. She gets her hair cut on-screen and you can see the fear and despair in that particular shot in her eyes. She became this character who literally is in a downward spiral with no hope of ever getting out of it. Fantine’s signature song “I Dreamed a Dream” was moved around in the movie compared to its placement in the musical. In the musical it is right after she is fired from the factory job, and in the movie it is right after her first experience as a prostitute. The movement of this song made the already sad lyrics even sadder. To put the cherry on top was how Hathaway decided to sing the song. She decided against belting it, instead going for a quieter version. Her version was so emotional, so raw, and so heartfelt that every time I’ve seen the movie (which is now up to three times), it breaks my heart and I feel a single tear coming down my cheek. I also have to give credit to director Tom Hooper for his shot choice during this song. It is shot in one long take with a minor cut in the beginning, and is just focused on Hathaway’s face. You could feel her emotions jumping off the screen. It was an incredibly effective way of shooting this scene. If she is not this year’s best supporting actress for her performance as Fantine, then clearly all the Academy members went to the bathroom during that scene because it is utterly heartbreaking.
Some other strong performances were Samantha Barks as Eponine, the street urchin who gets the short end of the stick in a love triangle, and Eddie Redmayne as the student revolutionary-turned-love sick puppy named Marius. Samantha had previously played Eponine on the West End Stage and the O2 25th anniversary concert. She lights up the screen with every scene she is in, and she really showed restraint in her vocal changes. Having come from a stage background, she said that she was used to singing to 2,000 people in a theater and that she had to learn to retrain her voice to strip down her singing. She really gives a great debut performance and will have a long movie career ahead of her. Eddie Redmayne as Marius was able to take one song I really don’t love, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and make it a heart-tugging performance. He had a boyish quality that Marius is often missing in the stage show, and he really added validity to the story that he had never been in love until he saw Cosette. Hugh Jackman was also Oscar-worthy as Valjean, and is probably in the final five of my Best Actor Oscar list, but unfortunately for Jackman it looks like nothing is stopping Daniel Day-Lewis and his incredible performance as Lincoln. However, Jackman was the perfect screen adaptation of Valjean.
Someone who I feel is unfortunately getting the short end of the stick by many critics is Russell Crowe as the persistent inspector Javert. At the end of his career, would this one performance be what he is known for? Probably not, but he didn’t ruin the movie as many critics have stated. I actually thought as the movie went on his performance got stronger. He was by no means one of the strongest voices of the cast, but he wasn’t as bad vocally as Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia (just even mentioning his croaking singing makes my ears hurt). In truth, he really had the unrelenting quality that any good Javert should have. His soliloquy was actually one of the strongest parts of the second half of the movie, and as in the play, we finally see some humanity in Javert. Also, I’ve heard that people don’t like Amanda Seyfried as Cosette because of her vibrato. I will say that after hearing the soundtrack, I was afraid it would be annoying and would make me hate the character of Cosette more so than I do already. However after seeing the movie, the vibrato in fact makes Cosette a more endearing character somehow. You often forget that Cosette is someone who (until she meets Valjean) has never known the true love of a parent. You forget how Valjean guards her, and through the imperfection in Seyfried’s voice you really understand the sense of innocence that her character has. Her performance in the epilogue was really heartbreaking and if you don’t tear up, you may be hollow on the inside.
In closing, I will answer the question I posed in the introduction: did the hype ruin the movie? No, it lived up to all of my expectations and surpassed many more. It wasn’t a let down like Mockingjay. It was everything I imagined it to be and was pure perfection. Not many movies can be labeled perfection and I think this is one that deserves that title. I would recommend this movie to anyone and everyone, even if you don’t like musicals. I think this story has developed a way to transcend the barrier of the musical. It has figured out a way to tell the story with music, rather than the music becoming an annoyance and taking away from the beauty of the story. In short, you have to go see this movie.
7 out of 5 Stars
Les Miserables (2012)
Working Titles Films
PG-13, 157 Minutes