There are a lot of conflicting opinions out there about it, but I thought the current film incarnation of “Les Miserables” was fantastic! My bestie Karen and I were thoroughly engrossed from start to blubbering finish.
Now, I never saw the stage production nor have I read the Victor Hugo novel, but it is my understanding that this version is a combo platter of the two, staging/fully sung a la the stage musical, but with additional plot lines and darker overtones from the original novel, which may account for the mixed reviews from those that are fans/proponents of one or both. What I have done however is sung some of the songs from the show throughout my career, and have seen others sing them too. I had never seen them performed in context with the actual storyline. Wow. Just mind-blowing. If I ever have the opportunity to revisit these songs in the future, I will have a completely different take on them.
Hugh Jackman was phenomenal. I’ve loved him in everything I’ve seen him in, and his casting as Valjean was the catalyst to my being so excited to see it. Anne Hathaway also perfect. For such a limited time on screen, the effects were lasting. The girl playing Eponine, Samantha Banks, had a simply stunning voice. The first line out of her mouth made me sit forward in my seat, with a “who is this girl??” She has played the roll on stage in London, but this is her first foray into film. I’m so, SO glad the powers that be decided against Taylor Swift for this roll as rumoured. Nothing against her, but that would have been an epic fail in casting. Speaking of epic fails… well… Russell Crowe… ugh… Sharron Matthews nailed it. He gets a big “meh” from me too. As an actor, he is perfectly cast for Javert. Grizzled, angry, dark, stoic, fearsome, unredeemed. But he tried to sing the role. Tried being the operative word. All he needed to do was say the songs. Say the words. Not sing them. He lost all character as soon as he tried to put a tune to the words. Not so much in the back and forth with other characters, but both solo moments fell horribly flat.
You could hear a pin drop in the theatre throughout the entire movie, which coincidentally was completely sold out (this being 4 days after it opened) Karen remarked that she had never heard an audience so quiet. Speaking of which, my only complaint was that the volume in the theatre was actually rather low, especially for a musical! (which could account for the exceptionally quite audience) When I spoke with the manager afterwards she explained that the previous viewing had complained about the volume being too high. *sigh*… I told her they overshot and need to dial it up a hair. There are so many beautiful big choral moments that would have been hair-standing-on-end powerful had the volume been up just a smidge more.
As a professional singer I was blown away by the knowledge that the entire movie was shot using live vocals, shooting songs in their entirety, over and over until the take was just right. The vocal, mental, and emotional stamina required is monumental. Believe me I know. Made some if the more spectacular vocal moments that much more moving for me. If you get a chance after you’ve seen it, seek out some of the behind the scene footage interviews and the interviews about the process with the key players. Truly eye-opening.
Anyway, I give this one 2 big thumbs up! Don’t be put off by it being a “musical”. You actually sort of forget about that after the first scene. Then you are just sucked into the story itself and along for the ride. If you’re so inclined, go see it! (and bring kleenex 😉 )