I so wanted to love “Les Misérables.” Musicals are one of my favorite genres. I adore Russell Crowe. I have really enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s singing and dancing in hosting the Tonys and who can forget the duet that he and Anne Hathaway performed when he hosted the Oscars? She can belt it out with the best of them.
But I didn’t love “Les Mis” and that makes me sad. For me, something was missing in director Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables.” It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I think the trouble begins with the two male leads.
Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, the prisoner released on parole who later becomes a respected factory owner, is a good actor and he can sing. But not this score. His voice truly disappoints. He struggles to reach many of the notes and it becomes distracting. As Javert, the police inspector obsessed with finding and re-imprisoning Valjean after he breaks parole, Russell Crowe has a melodic voice. He sings on key and doesn’t embarrass himself. But his part demands someone with a strong, Broadway-type voice and Crowe just doesn’t have it. The scenes between the two work because they are good actors, but in a musical, acting is just half of the job.
Another distraction is the way in which Hooper chooses to display Javert’s obsession with Valjean. Javert keeps popping up in such weird manners that it almost starts to feel Wile E. Coyote-like. My audience actually started to laugh at one point.
Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, the factory worker who is fired and forced to become a prostitute in order to support her daughter, Cosette, is very strong. Hathaway can act and her voice is well-suited to this role. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the adult Cosette, Amanda Seyfried . So good in “Mama Mia,” Seyfried seems to be screeching her songs. She simply cannot reach the notes. Like Jackman and Crowe, her acting is fine, but this role calls for more.
The remaining cast is very good. Eddie Redmayne as Marius, the idealistic young French rebel and Cosette’s suitor has a beautiful voice. He is terrific, as is Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, Marius’ colleague in-arms.
Is Helena Bonham Carter, as Madame Thénardier, ever bad? She and Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier), as the innkeepers who “care” for the young Cosette, provide the pitch –perfect comic relief and work well together, in addition to having voices just right for their roles. Samantha Barks as Éponine, their daughter, who’s in love with Marius is wonderful. Her voice is so beautiful that it makes one wish that she had been cast as Cosette.
Finally we have the adorable Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, the young mascot to the rebels. He can sing and act…but why does he have a strong Cockney accent in France? I kept waiting for him to ask, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
Much has been made of the fact that the actors are singing live. While that is admirable and helps in some scenes, especially those with Anne Hathaway, I do wonder if that is part of the problem with the weaker singing.
Kudos to cinematographer, Danny Cohen; “Les Misérables” is beautifully shot. Some of the scenes are positively breathtaking. If movies were based on just photography, this film would be a true winner. Unfortunately we have to use senses other than visual and that is the film’s ultimate downfall.