If you are a musical theatre lover who is generally disappointed by their adaptions into film, you will be pleasantly surprised by Les Miserables. While most shows-turned-films cut out plot lines and various musical numbers (Hello, RENT), Tom Hopper’s version of the classic stays as true to the show as possible. Almost every single song was left in the film, with some minor cuts here and there. For example, Javert’s “Stars” appears in the film, but Gavroche’s verse at the end about the cruel inspector is missing. The film is also cinematographically beautiful. The colors are great and the costumes are superb. Unfortunately, the casting choices are hit and miss. The live singing may also throw you for a loop, whether you’re a singer or not. At times the cast takes too many liberties, destroying the powerful music and muddling the lyrics so they are not understandable.
It is nice to see a blend of both mainstream film actors and performers with musical theatre backgrounds in this film. Although Aaron Tveit has guest starred in shows like the CW’s “Gossip Girl”, he is mostly known for his roles in musicals like Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can. However, his performance as Enjorlas in this movie deserves to make him a household name. He has an incredible voice and stands out as the leader of this revolution. The same can be said about Samantha Barks, who reprises her role as Eponine. Eddie Redmayne shines as Marius, and probably has one of the strongest singing abilities in the entire cast. His version of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” will bring numerous audience members to tears. The most surprising performance is that by Russell Crowe. He brings a grungier sound to Inspector Javert, but it is a rocker vibe that somehow works. His strong characterization, combined with the unique voice, may quite possibly make him the most entertaining actor to watch in this production. Award nominee Anne Hathaway is good as Fantine. She puts a lot of emotion into her performance, but at times it seems like she is just trying too hard to strengthen the character. It just may not be strong enough to score her a Golden Globe for best supporting actress. Unfortunately, Amanda Seyfried falls flat as Cosette. She puts a vibrato on every song she sings, very reminiscent of the Cowardly Lion. It times it is not as prevalent, but it is always there and very hard to ignore.
Her shaky style may have something to do with the live singing the director chose to do. Every performer was given free range to sing their songs however they wanted. They wore ear pieces to hear music. After the best versions were chosen, an orchestra went back and recorded versions of the popular songs to match whatever the actors did. Although interesting, it may not have been the strongest choice. It is extremely hard to understand a lot of what Hugh Jackman,who plays lead character Jean Valjean, is singing in the first 30 minutes of the film. The confusion makes it seem like the story is dragging, even though the plot is working quick to establish why Valjean was a prisoner for 19 years before his parole. The live aspect also becomes annoying at times. While the Thenardiers, played by Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, give comedic relief to the dreary story, Cohen adds too many lines in between his songs and adds the most preposterous, over-the-top, French accent when he speaks. It gets to be enough when you realize that his improving is taking too much away from the original music.
There’s also a new song which was written specifically for this movie, entitled “Suddenly”. It is sung by Valjean to Cosette as they ride off in a carriage. It was disappointing that they had taken pieces of actual songs from the musical out of the film to make room for this one, especially since the new song does not match the rest of the score. It also serves no purpose. “Suddenly” seems like it was only added to the film so that Les Miserables could be nominated in one more category for awards season.
Although the story is dark, the film is beautiful. Dreary night scenes are just as stunning as the bright, powerfully red revolution scenes. There is only one, completely unnecessary, use of CGI. At the beginning of the film, Valjean tears up a note and you watch very computer-generated pieces fly into the sky. It takes you out of the movie for a minute, reminding you that is all it is. However, you are thrown right back into the world of Les Miserables as the pieces guide you into the next segment.
Les Miserables is a strong movie. It gives life to the musical in a way that most movie-musicals do not, by staying true to the way the show was originally supposed to be seen. Hopper leaves in most of the songs and lets a talented cast share the story with viewers who may not otherwise know it. It is not the greatest film of the year, but it is definitely one of the most powerful.