The highly anticipated movie-musical, Les Miserables, opened in theaters on Christmas Day with generally positive buzz. The original Broadway production ran for 16 years from 1987-2003, won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and is currently the 4th longest running Broadway show. Les Miserables will return to Broadway in 2014 after the 2nd National U.S. tour is completed.
Synopsis: Based on the 19th century French novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean, a poor French man who serves 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. When he is finally released on a lifetime of parole, he is unable to find employment as a known ex-con. Inspired by a bishop’s act of kindness, Jean Valjean breaks parole, and over the next eight years, he assumes a new identity and becomes a factory owner and mayor. A young woman named Fantine is a worker at Jean Valjean’s factory. When the other factory workers and foreman discover that Fantine has an illegitimate child who lives with an innkeeper, she is dismissed from the factory and forced to sell her jewelry, hair, and teeth for money, and later becomes a prostitute. When Fantine dies of consumption, Jean Valjean feels guilt over her dismissal from his factory, and he promises that he will find and care for her daughter, Cosette, who is being abused by the Thenardiers. He pays the Thenardiers 1500 francs for Cosette. Meanwhile, Javert, a policeman who knew Jean Valjean during his jail time, recognizes him as a fugitive of the law, and this begins a cat and mouse chase that will last for the next ten years.
Ten years later, a young student named Marius meets a now grown-up Cosette and instantly falls in love with her, but Marius is secretly loved by the Thenardier's daughter, Eponine. Another student, Enjolras, organizes a revolution after learning of General Lamarque’s death, and a barricade is built, while Javert disguises himself in order to spy on the students. Eponine also disguises herself as a man and joins Marius and the student rebels, but is shot and killed. When Javert is exposed as a spy, Jean Valjean offers to kill him, but instead sets him free. All of the students are killed in battle except for Marius, who is wounded and carried to safety through the sewers by Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean and Javert meet for the final time but Javert is unable to apprehend him because Jean Valjean had saved his life. Javert commits suicide out of shame.
Jean Valjean tells Marius the truth about his past, but asks him to never tell Cosette. Marius and Cosette marry, and Marius realizes that Jean Valjean was the man who saved his life at the barricade. Marius and Cosette go to Jean Valjean, who is dying, and Marius is able to thank him for saving his life before he dies.
Comments: I will start by stating that this film is very, very good and quite possibly one of the best, if not THE best, musical movie in recent years. I recommend Les Miserables to anyone and everyone. But what prevents it from being an excellent film is the same mistake that plagues most musical movies- the casting of actors who can sing adequately, but are not singers. Luckily, Les Miserables is so visually stunning and emotionally raw that it mostly distracts from some of the disappointing vocal moments in the movie.
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was fantastic. He completely embodied his character, physically, emotionally, vocally; from the familiar opening notes of the overture until his bittersweet “death”, Hugh Jackman WAS Jean Valjean. His performance was emotionally raw, authentic, and honest. He carried the entire “show” with ease. Bravo.
Russell Crowe played Javert and I found his performance to be very repressed and unemotional; however, this may have been his interpretation of the character? I thought his acting improved toward the end of the movie. During his final scenes with Jean Valjean, he did bring out hints of Javert’s passion and shame. His singing was a bit nasal and mediocre.
Perhaps the most talked-about performance is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Her performance is... heartbreaking. Tragic. Raw. And though her screen time is probably fifteen or twenty minutes early in the movie, her character will linger in your mind throughout the movie, which is really a testament to the actress’ performance. Her emotional rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is raw and honest; however, there was no emotional arc because she cried through the entire song. I have mixed feelings about her vocal performance. On the one hand, her performance of this iconic number is superbly acted and was very enjoyable in this sense. On the other hand, the copious tears were also a distraction from the fact that she is not a strong singer. Within the context of the movie, I would say that “I Dreamed A Dream” is enjoyable despite her vocal shortcomings; with that said, if I want to hear “I Dreamed A Dream” on my iPod, I’ll stick to the Broadway cast album. But overall, Bravo.
West End actress Samantha Barks plays Eponine and by far, she gave the standout vocal performance in the movie. “On My Own” was perfect. I loved the rain. I loved the close shots of Eponine. I loved the emotional arc that she brought to the song. I loved her chemistry with Eddie Redmayne (Marius), especially during the heart-wrenching song, “A Little Fall of Rain”. Many actresses have played Eponine during the past 25 years, but Samantha Barks brought something special to this beloved character. Bravo.
Eddie Redmayne played Marius and he also had a great voice and gave a very emotional and honest performance. His performance was a nice surprise for me, because I was not expecting him to be as good as he was. Amanda Seyfried played Cosette and was good. Cosette is not a standout character because the book does not give her much depth, but she does the best with what she is given. She sings with a very unique vibrato and her voice is a bit airy and thin. As Enjolras, Aaron Tveit was outstanding and by far, had the best death scene. He also stood out vocally, but this is not a huge surprise since he comes straight from Broadway.
The Thenardiers were played by Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter and they had great chemistry together as a comic duo. Finally, 10 year old Isabelle Allen was excellent as Young Cosette and sang beautifully in her debut performance (and eerily resembles the child on the former Les Miserables marquee and poster).
In conclusion, Les Miserables is a must-see for theatre-lovers and movie-lovers alike. This film is filled with raw, honest, emotional performances by very talented actors. The sets are visually stunning. The story-telling is authentic. Despite some vocal shortcomings, Les Miserables is, in my opinion, one of the best musical movies to ever grace the silver screen. Go see it.