Les Miserables is an overwhelming spectacle. It is ambitious in its loyalty to the source material, the use of recitative and the mixture of established Broadway professionals with Hollywood amateurs. Unfortunately, in attempting to please both theater fans and regular moviegoers, the filmmakers have muddied the waters.
In between the few bright shining moments, we have to suffer through hours – literally, HOURS – of seemingly interminable caterwauling and slow-dying. By the time we got to the last death scene (that’s not a spoiler, lots of people die — their lives are miserable, remember?), and someone said “Hang on, you’re going to be fine!” I audibly groaned. Not ANOTHER long, drawn-out fading away sequence. I was relaxing in the comfort of an easy-boy with wine and cheese served at my seat, and it was still painful to sit through.
That’s not to say that I hate the musical itself; I do love me some Les Miz from time to time. I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado by any means, but as a musical theater geek I might know more than the average bear; I’ve seen it performed live twice, watched the reunion concert specials every time they came on TV and fallen in love with the original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson (YES I know he’s old and it’s slightly creepy but have you heard this man sing Gethsemane
?! I get chills every time).
But even for a self-professed musical lover, the majority of this movie felt like a chore. It would have been enormously improved by some liberal edits: “Master of the House,” performed capably by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen, was completely unnecessary for the story and added about 10 minutes of wasted screen time. (Valjean’s new song “Suddenly” was equally pointless).
We could have saved another 5 minutes of agony by eliminating Russell Crowe’s soliloquy, “Stars.” Crowe’s take on Javert was competent, but you have to consider that what makes musicals and operas a joy to sit through for 3 to 5 hours is the beauty of the music. Crowe just doesn’t have the training, experience and (to be completely honest) raw talent to keep us enraptured. Listen to his subdued, and frankly somewhat boring (particularly 2 hours in) take on the song
as compared to Philip Quast’s
. I’m not going to argue that Crowe’s voice needs to be as great as a theater legend, just trying to illustrate the point that portraying a character as a talented actor isn’t enough
in this case. Crowe defended his performance as “raw and real
,” meeting the intentions of the director; but as Anne Hathaway demonstrated, it is possible to be both “raw and real” and “musically talented.”
Which brings me to Hugh Jackman. I think he’s charming and charismatic, and based on previous performances, I thought he was a great singer as well. But he is first and foremost a film actor, which means that he prioritized the physical performance over the musical one. He attempted to act out all of his songs, so not only did his singing suffer, but the music — designed to convey all those emotions Jackman preferred to act out — got lost in the shuffle. Granted, for someone who only dabbles in theater, he did a great job. But that qualification — for an amateur — means that some of the more difficult songs, which are beautiful and haunting when done correctly
, fell flat. “Bring Him Home” was particularly painful; Jackman can’t hit the notes with richness and clarity, and his voice felt weak and tremulous throughout the whole movie.
This might be my theater bias speaking; his acting performance felt genuine and captivating, but I was so disappointed to see “Who Am I”
squandered that it was hard to see past the shortcomings. Once you’ve heard and been caught up in a performance like this one
, it’s hard to lower the bar.
Lest I come across as too unforgiving, I will admit to being completely stunned and overwhelmed by Anne Hathaway’s performance. I wasn’t bowled over by her clip in the trailer, but that doesn’t do her performance justice AT ALL. She’s a strong enough singer, but she really turned in a powerhouse performance for the camera. I’ve seen dozens of ingenues perform “I Dreamed a Dream,” usually wistful, sad, sweet — but Hathaway was brutal. She conveyed anger, bitterness, self-hatred, in a display of raw emotion that not only had me in tears, it nearly had me SOBBING. That song isn’t about reminiscing over a lost love, it’s a woman who’s dead inside, angry and heartbroken over the loss of her innocence and the realization that the world is a cruel place. Her perfect balance of music with meaning demonstrated the potential movies have to enhance and build upon the theater world; while that potential wasn’t realized across the board, it was still wonderful to see.
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne hit their notes (faintly, in the case of the former) and gazed dully at each other, but Aaron Tveit and the other young revolutionaries were fantastic, as was Samantha Barks as Eponine. Another great performance could be seen from the aforementioned original Jean Valjean – Colm Wilkinson – who played the Bishop who helps Valjean after his release. I didn’t realize he had a role in the movie at all, so his cameo was a welcome surprise. I would have loved to see more of him though; they could have de-aged him, right?! Come on, SFX.
So while there were a few bright moments throughout the movie, and watching Anne Hathaway’s performance was a powerful experience, overall I think it’s just way too long and tedious to sit through in the theater. Wait for the rental.