Release Date: December 25th, 2012
Actors: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway
Director: Tom Hooper
Current Location: In Theaters
Current Location: In Theaters
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.
Krista and I didn't grow up with Les Misérables. While kids listened to the musical, saw the stage production, and re-watched the anniversary concerts, we were stuck in Neverland, re-reading Peter Pan and pretending we would never grow up. So before seeing the film, all I knew was that Les Misérables is a novel about French revolutionaries and happens to be the origin for "I Dreamed a Dream." After watching the musical, all I could think was -- where has this been all my life? Songs like "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" and "Red and Black" hit powerfully, and perhaps it's because I had no idea they were coming. Perhaps it's because this was my first time experiencing something as powerful as Les Misérables.
After seeing the film, I quickly went to Youtube and consulted with the stage productions and the concerts, wanting to see how they differed from the movie. There's a huge contrast between the film and the play. The director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) decided to have the actors sing live onset rather than in a studio pre-recording the songs ahead of time. This sounds like it'd make the film more like the stage since both sing live, but there's a large difference. The actors in the film didn't have a seven-piece orchestra to pump them up. Instead, they had a little piano in an earpiece. So in essence, they were singing this a cappella.
Don't look for large belting performances as you'd see on stage. Each actor sings with a rawness that allows for the songs' meaning to hit powerfully. Even without the vocals of Michael Ball, who played Marius on stage, the film comes across as more emotive and more personal than any others. [keep reading for notes on best and worst performances]
Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" will leave you in tears, and she makes a lasting impact even in her short screen time. She sets up the rest of the performances, as if leading the way for all the actors to leave themselves bare with each chorus and melody. Eddie Redmayne did just that with his portrayal of Marius, a student revolutionary who's torn between love and his dream to free the people from oppression. His rendition of "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" was soul-crushing, and every time he looked at Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), his love felt real and honest and deep -- which is a hard feat when he falls for her with one little look.
Other notable performances were Daniel Huddlestone who played young revolutionary Gavroche. He previously played Gavroche on the West End and also performed in Oliver on stage as the artful Dodger, but this was his first film, and he proved absolutely dynamic. Aaron Tveit played the leader of the student revolutionaries Enjolras, and he brought passion that lifted each scene he was in.
Without Hugh Jackman pouring his soul into every song, I'm not so sure the film would have been as successful. He sang with the same quiet grittiness as the other actors, but opposite Russell Crowe, he outshone him and clearly seemed like the more seasoned performer. An Oscar nomination should, without a doubt, be in his future -- as should Eddie Redmayne, but realistically, that's more of a long shot.
Les Misérables wasn't perfect. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter provided comedic relief, which worked at some moments, but other times it felt like too much -- something Tom Hooper should have caught. The weakest link was Russell Crowe as the inspector Javert. He looked uncomfortable singing live, and where he should have come across as a threatening and aggressive man seeking justice, he just fell flat. He had two expression throughout, and it can best be described as blank and awkward.
I can't make a statement for fans of the play, but I can say that the film has converted me. I love Les Misérables, and I actually prefer the honest, personal, and expressive performances of Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit and Hugh Jackman compared to any others. If you go in expecting to be blown with vocals, you'll be disappointed. But if you recognize that the film is trying to convey the realness of the time (yes, an oxymoron since it's a musical), you may feel something more. I would suggest bringing a pack of tissues. I cried more in this movie than I have ever before.