Audience reactions to the new, film version of Les Miserables will be a matter of personal taste and familiarity with the material. Audience members can legitimately arrive at very different conclusions. Final ratings may be driven by directorial choices impacting how the masses view the final product.
Without benefit of intermission, Les Miserables is too long, Graphically, Les Miz is an achievement. Many performances are outstanding. The story is more understandable than on-stage. But Les Miserables should be Jean Valjean’s show. Somehow, Director Tom Hooper has turned it into more of an ensemble piece that loses its strong central focus.
The choice to sing the score in real time is courageous. But in satisfying the cast’s desire to emote, the director robbed himself of camera options that might have benefited pacing and product length.
It is unfair of me to judge this film objectively. I have seen the stage version a number of times with Colm Wilkinson, Alfie Boe, Raimin Karmiloo, and others in the lead role live. The wonder of Les Miserables for me has been the quality of the vocal performances and the haunting melodies, well sung, that touch an audience. This is difficult music, but wonderful when well performed. While singing as they act live may be a valid choice for the actors, I found it a little self-indulgent and overall damaging to the fine score.
All the actors did a credible job. Anne Hathaway, as the doomed Fantine, ripped the audience’s heart from its chest with an impassioned performance. I know she put her soul into the character and she may be rewarded during award season. Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, similarly gave the part his all. Hugh Jackman sings better than he showed. It may be that their bravura performances distract from the whole.
The remaining cast offered more to be enthusiastic about. In particular, Russell Crowe played it straight as Inspector Javeart. His difficult songs were in natural his bass vocal range and he delivered. Marius, Cossette, and Epione were all well represented. The comic relief section fell somehow flat despite a surprisingly good performance by Sasha Baron Cohen as the Innkeeper. Unfortunately, too many pieces of clever stage business were crammed together to allow for much of the relief to penetrate.
Colm Wilkinson, as the Bishop, saves the paroled Valjean from prison, offers him a second chance, and reappears in the final scene to help lead Valjean to glory. It is an appropriate homage to Les Miz fans and to Wilkinson, who was the original Jean Valjean and the Phantom in the first workshop presentation of Phantom of the Opera.
Some musical theater pieces have translated well to the screen. Several that come to mind are Chicago, Sweeny Todd, and Evita. A number have not done as well. Time will tell with this incarnation of Les Miz.
Les Miserables has much to recommend it. It is a good film. Whether or not it is a great film will be up the individual audience member. See it. Decide for yourself.