The Christmas opening of the film “Les Miserables” was a dream come true for the millions of Les Miz fans around the world. After all, this globally popular French musical practically begs for a Hollywood rendition with it’s spectacular visuals and a soundtrack that needs to be reproduced over crystal-clear digital speakers. Critics are generally in awe of the film, praising the acting — while not necessarily being so hot about the singing. For the legions of fans who have watched the musical onstage at West End; or at the classic 10th anniversary concert; or survived Nick Jonas’ massacre of the 25th Anniversary Concert, here’s a hardcore fan’s take on the film:
Les Miserables undoubtedly boasts a stellar A-List cast and fortunately yes, most of them can sing… to a degree. Anne Hathaway is exceptional in this film. She has created a Fantine whose tragedy is well amplified through her realistic interpretation of “I Dreamed a Dream”. Instead of an angelic, Susan Boyle-sque rendition, the audience gets a strong sense of anguish and sorrow that many of Hathaway’s predecessors have not been able to achieve. Anne Hathaway deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars for this role.
The other actors might not be as outstanding as Hathaway but they are competent and do justice to the roles they play. Eddie Redmayne as the love-struck Marius (much better than Nick Jonas); Samantha Barks as Eponine; and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras are able to both nail their songs (Barks’ “On My Own”, Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” live up to West End standards) and flesh out their characters convincingly.
Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenadiers do not disappoint, though Cohen’s “Master Of The House” in an over-exaggerated French accent needs a bit of getting used to. Both he and Carter do well as the unsavory Thenadiers, serving up much-needed comedic relief with their villainous antics.
For diehard fans, it was a big bonus seeing Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne. Wilkinson was the original actor cast as Jean Valjean in the onstage production. To see Wilkinson as the Bishop was gratifying especially given the stark contrast between him and his current successor, Hugh Jackman, who is somewhat weaker a singer in comparison.
The worst casting decision however was Russell Crowe as Javert. Although his imposing physique looks convincingly like that of a dutiful beat cop, his singing voice is not suited for a musical: it’s nasal and evokes little emotion. Compared to Philip Quast (from the 10th Anniversary Concert and possibly the best Javert ever), Crowe’s delivery of “Stars” and “The Confrontation” are disappointing to hear.
That brings us to “One Day More” which is one of the most popular and challenging songs of Les Miserables: Valjean gets off to an average start; Javert is jarring and the Thenadiers’ a bit messy (though that’s the Thenadiers’ for you). Despite the early hiccups, the number still ends well with the rest of the cast, the exuberant choir and orchestra pulling off a credible salvage job.
If the two male leads are so disappointing, why should fans even watch it? The main reason lies in the rich and excellent cinematography. Director Tom Hooper’s artistic vision brings to life Victor Hugo’s world of 18th Century France. The rotten living conditions in Montsieur-Le-Mil and the streets of Paris are palpably gritty in this film, bringing to life the poverty and squalor the common citizens are trapped in and seek to rise up from. This level of realism is something that the musicals are unable to present given the physical constraints onstage.
Victor Hugo’s powerful story of redemption still resonates, even for fans who are already familiar with the trials and tribulations of Jean Valjean. The ensemble cast including Jackman and Crowe’s very believably human portrayals of their respective characters deserve praise for making the film as moving as the musical was some 27 years ago when it opened at London’s West End. The final scene remains a powerful tear-jerker with the collective performances of Jackman, Hathaway, Redmayne, Seyfried and Wilkinson.
Les Miz diehards should like this film version though it may not be the perfect version everyone’s dreamt of. At least it is not as bad as that disastrous film adaptation of the “Phantom Of The Opera”. The film does lives up to the musical’s reputation and for fans who have waited decades, this film is certainly a must-watch.