Les Miserables - my personal review.
I had the pleasure of seeing a screening tonight. Now to preface, I am one of the maybe 7 or 8 people who have never been a giant fan of the stage version of Les Miz. I think it has an often beautiful score and the stage version featured some absolutely amazing scenic and lighting breakthroughs that were very thrilling in their day. But I've always thought the story-telling was extremely hard to follow, even for those of us who have read the original novel. And I was not a fan of the now famous, or infamous, turntable. Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike the show - but one viewing for me was very much a "right - got it" experience.
I defer however to the millions of Les Miz aficionados and mega-fans all over the world. This is arguably the most popular musical of all time and it is to be respected for all it has meant to people and the stature it holds in the musical theater world.
That said, I approached this film with excitement but also some trepidation that they would not be able to improve on the flaws of the play. Well, they have improved massively.
The biggest story of the night is that Les Miz is finally a completely knowable, traceable and satisfying piece of epic story-telling from start to finish. That is no small accomplishment and I say bravo and hats off to Tom Hooper and his writers for getting it right.
As a stage and occasional film director myself, I always see musicals and particularly musical films with an eye to how I would have tried to capture or stage a particular scene or moment. And there are several here that I am quite sure I would have come at in a different way. But that and a few dollars gets me on the subway. It doesn't mean much. The film is visually beautiful - rich, textured, very romantic when it should be, very squalid when it should be. Clearly, Mr. Hooper has talent by the bushel and a clear love and passion for this material and I say, bravo and bless him for his achievement.
The technique of incorporating singing performances that were not pre-recorded is used to extreme success here. You can tell that the sung performance is spontaneous to the filmed performance and that is very comforting when watching a piece that is almost entirely sung through. But it also means that occasionally some of the singing is quite raw. Having to sing for long filming days for many weeks or months under difficult conditions can wreak a bit of havoc with any voice. And there are times when the wear and tear can be heard. But it is almost always in keeping with the emotional content of the scene and so more often than not it enhances the performance. But if you were anticipating the standard "studio" beauty of a musical, you will not get too much of it here.
That is not to detract from the power of the performances. There is truly wonderful work across the board - not a weak link in the whole piece. Nice comedic work from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter though if you saw them in Sweeney Todd you may feel you're on familiar ground. There is an easy and solid performance from Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and a gorgeous cameo performance by the original Jean Valjean - Colm Wilkinson. There is a remarkably good performance by Eddie Redmayne as Marius, nuanced, passionate but very genuine and beautifully sung. And those Aussie boys - Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe do themselves quite proud. Again, these are not the voices you would cast onstage - Les Miz is more of an opera on stage and that is usually the quality of the voices in those roles. But Mr. Jackman's and Mr. Crowe's sound are powerful and thrilling in their own right and the acting choices are extraordinary. These are not easy roles and they more than conquer them.
But for me, the night actually belongs to the ladies. Samantha Banks and Amanda Seyfried pull off the impossible -- they manage to bring real feeling and care and complexity to those usually cloying roles of Eponine and Cossette. And Banks commendably resists the "pop" approach that just about every girl that has every played the role seems incapable of resisting. Seyfried is beautifully understated and actually makes the instant love of Marius believable. And the absolute standout of the night is.... Anne Hathaway. Remember that she is really only in the first 20 or so minutes of the movie and has one of the most overdone, dramatic numbers in modern theater history - I Dreamed a Dream. Her performance of this aria is so exquisite that director Hooper offers it up as a single, unbroken shot and performance. You are up close and in her eyes the whole time and she delivers with pathos, intelligence and remarkably zero self-indulgence. For me, it's a definite supporting actress nom.
All in all, if you love the show you are going to adore this movie. It's long, kids. Almost 2:45. But it is the film you have waited for. It is worth the hype and the anticipation. So yes - go. Take tissues. Have a blast. It's a big, epic, romantic musical come to the screen and as an old music theater queen - it delights me to the core.