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Movie Talk: Review of 'Les Miserables'

A film review of the latest movie musical version of "Les Miserables."

I can't quite express how excited I was when I first learned that Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" would be made into a new movie musical. I adore the Broadway musical and had the chance to see it performed here in Milwaukee a few years back. (My poor mother was little prepared for the number of tears I would shed during the story, and was short of tissues for the entire second act. Don't worry - she was more than prepared for the movie viewing and supplied me with a constant stream of clean, dry Kleenex throughout the film.) I tried in vain to get my family to agree to a Christmas Day screening of the movie, so I had to settle for seeing it last night.

Overall, I thought it was very well done. I was really impressed with the news that Tom Hooper was filming "live" for the scenes, but I have mixed feelings about the results. (Normally, when filming a musical, the cast will head to the recording studio first and lay down the tracks. Later, when shooting scenes, the music will be piped in on set and the cast will lip synch along with what they have already sung. For "Les Miserables," every take was filmed and sung in real time. There was a pianist on set who the actors listened to for their musical cues and so forth.) In some scenes, the voices seemed drowned out - the opening number, for example. I knew what the cast was singing, but it was quiet in comparison to the score and I wonder of those unfamiliar with the libretto were able to hear.

There were some new songs that aren't part of the stage show and I was lukewarm about those. And several of the songs were truncated or mashed together. I suppose, with a 160-minute film, you must cut corners somewhere, but I always appreciate the full score and songs more than pared down versions.

Hugh Jackman was a good cast for Jean Valjean. He most certainly has the acting chops and the heart for the character. In most of his song, I was really impressed with his voice and his musical choices. Some songs, though, really missed the mark, most especially "Bring Him Home." Granted, it's tough to beat Colm Wilkinson.  

Anne Hathaway was outstanding in her role as Fantine. Her performance has been much buzzed about and the words "Oscar nomination" have been bandied about frequently. I hope she is nominated - she surely deserves it. She's soulful and musical and you can see how much she put into the role.

I was disappointed with Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert. (Insert my sigh here.) He certainly looks the part, and I know that he can sing well and that he can be a powerful actor. Apparently, he can't sing powerfully while acting. Sure, he hits all the right notes and harmonies in his performance, but "Stars" and "Javert's Suicide" are lacking - big time. The notes are right, but there's no heart, no conviction, no power, no feeling.

Amanda Seyfried is lovely as Cosette. She has a beautiful soprano voice and does well with a role that I have always considered lacking. Eddie Redmayne was great as Marius - a beautiful voice and a perfect presence. I was really quite impressed by Aaron Tveitas as Enjorlas - he made a big impression and has a superb voice; ditto for Samantha Barks as Eponine.

The big miscasts or, perhaps it's just the way that the actors chose to play the characters that grates on my nerves, are Sacha Baron Cohen as as Thenardier and Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier. Ugh. They came across as bumbling lunatics and that isn't how the characters are - Thenardier and Madame Thenardier are cons; they're ruthless and cutthroat and mean; not crazy. I was really disappointed and bothered by any scene featuring those two.

Overall, the film is wonderful. Definately one that I'll be adding to my DVD collection when it's availalbe. I give an A-. Anyone else seen it? What were your thoughts? (And who wants to go see it again with me?)

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Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) December 28, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I can't wait to see this movie, but now I'm a little worried. I've never seen it but I know all the words to every song ... so to read your review (because we seem to have many of the same tastes and views in books and I trust your take) makes me a little hesitant, I have to say.
Carol Braun December 28, 2012 at 11:06 PM
My favorite musical of all time... saw it onstage... went Christmas night to see the film with son & family... got there just before starting time and ended up in 4th row from front... many of the songs are done on close-ups of just the singers head... wow!... very big that close up... my recomendation is to sit back a bit if possible... the cinematography was incredible... especially the opening scene and Javert's ending. I loved it... everyone in the theater was crying and clapping at the end... you can pick apart each individual performance or song but the overall effect was wonderful. I hope it gets lots of Oscar nominations to encourage more musical movies which seem to be a dying art form. I plan on going back next week and sitting back a little to get the full effect. I'll probably also get the DVD when it comes out just so I can relive the experience over.
Suzanne Whiteside December 29, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Bravo! I have seen the stage productions numerous times, know all the lyrics and I thoroughly enjoyed the move. I cried at the end as did almost everyone else. It truly was spectacular and I was entertained. After all, isn't that what movies are all about?
Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) January 02, 2013 at 12:00 AM
It was one of the best movie-going experiences EVER! This film ripped my heart out in all the best ways. I sang the words to almost every song and thought the only weakness was Russell Crowes voice. It didn't have the right OOMPH to be Javert but his stage presence & characterization was spot-on. I think I will definitely buy this one.

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