Hugh Jackman is a God, and Anne Hathaway is his Virgin Mother.
December 26, 2012 11:07 pmJune Dakota
I went into Les Misérables with some pretty serious expectations and, frankly, apprehensions. Although I've never seen the musical on the stage, I know all of the music by heart from listening to my mother's original Broadway cast recording approximately one billion times between the ages of 11 and 18. I was thrilled to see Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Even though most people think Russell Crowe is kind of a jerk I fell in love with him a lot when he was Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and never got over it (he can master and command me any day) so I was even excited to see him as Javert despite his lack of vocal training.
Let's cut to the chase: this movie is utterly fantastic and if you don't go see it you're making a huge mistake and puppies will die in a fire. From the first moment, the film is gripping. I was in tears five minutes in, and I wasn't alone; when you go, bring a pack of Kleenex. If you're going in a group, bring a full box. The vast majority (if not all) of the singing is recorded live during filming, which brings an immediacy to the musical performances that is missing in other movie musicals, which typically pre-record a soundtrack and then have the actors lip-synching on set. The sets and costuming are excellent, and as near as my untrained eye can tell, reasonably accurate. I say reasonably because this is a musical that gives British Cockney accents to French revolutionaries, so there's bound to be a margin of error where historical facts are concerned.
As far as the performances go, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway take the gold. Hugh Jackman's transformation from convict to law-abiding citizen is striking; I didn't understand until seeing his before and after how Jean Valjean could've hidden for so long without being spotted for who he was, but man, shaving a scraggly beard, growing your hair and gaining 20 lbs. does a lot to change your appearance! Anne Hathaway has a similar transformation in the opposite direction: she goes from sweet factory worker to hair-chopped, tooth-pulled prostitute and it's heart-rending. Her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" is particularly striking, not just because of her vulnerable and honest performance, but because she holds the audience's attention all the way through the song and it's one take, just her face - no edits, no camera angle changes, just a pure performance. There aren't a lot of actors who can pull that off, and I salute her. Eddie Redmayne stands out as Marius, and I don't say that lightly. This is the first time I've seen a real strong, attractive performance of Marius. I really liked that he wasn't just emo-fied when he falls in love with Cosette. Aaron Tveit is also excellent as the revolutionary Enjolras. That's a part that doesn't get a lot of glory publicity-wise, but handles a lot of the show's meaty music and moves the plot along by strength of personality, and he plays it with aplomb.
Sasha Baren Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thenardier and Mme. Thenardier are very well-suited, to their own parts and to each other. The criticism I heard from my viewing party was that they were tired of seeing Helena as the crazy lady in weird makeup in every movie, but I honestly thought she fit well in this role. And Sasha Baren Cohen brings his own touch to Thenardier with a few well-placed ad-libs. They both do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life multi-dimensionally. You can really see that the Thenardiers are hilarious and sinister, idiotic and clever, in love and hate with one another, but greedy to the last.
Samantha Barks holds her own as Eponine, though there's not much to work with in the character; Eponine is a whiny pining teenager and then she exits the story, enough said. Barks sings fine, but doesn't do much to wow us dramatically. Amanda Seyfried as Cosette is just an unfortunate casting choice. I don't know what happens to directors when they cast movie musicals, but they can't ever seem to manage casting ingenues who can actually sing. When I asked my mom what she thought of Amanda Seyfried, she said "I didn't like her high range," to which I replied "What high range?" Russell Crowe holds his own as Javert, but doesn't do much for the character musically. Don't get me wrong, I'm still in love with Captain Jack, but his singing the role effectively was a dream that could not be. My favorite song in the musical is Javert's "Stars", and he just doesn't have the chops to give it the necessary gravitas. In contrast to Hathaway's "Dream", "Stars" has a ton of camera angle changes over fictional, computer-generated 19th-century Paris to try to distract us and make Crowe look badass, but it doesn't quite work.
I will say that even though this movie pulls in at 157 minutes, it doesn't feel half as long as The Hobbit did. Which is not to say the time flies by; the material is heavy, and there is a distinct ebb and flow around where the break between acts would be in a staged performance. Dramatically, however, there's enough movement to keep your interest, and the experience is so wonderful that the time invested seems worth it. I'll also say that the movie will be easy to follow, even if you're not familiar with the musical. The creative team does an excellent job of telling us what's going on, where, and with whom, so despite the large number of characters, we don't lose track of anyone.
When the movie finished, I said "oh my God" about eight times in a row, and then made a beeline for the ladies' room because I'd had to pee for over an hour but my bladder's will could not overcome the beauty of this film. If I could somehow have put my heart on a page and turned that in as a review, I would've done that. Seriously, go see it yesterday.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING||5.0|