Les Misérables has never been a favorite musical of mine - not to say that I do not consider it exceptionally well-written, only that I am not particularly familiarized with it. I have only seen it a few times, and only performed by schools and amateur local theatres, so unlike most fanatics who consider Les Mis the most powerful musical in history, my opinions won't be nearly as personal, and therefore, not nearly as biased. That being said, though I had no prior intimate connection with Les Mis before today, I feel as if I am Marius and this film is my Cosette: I love it instantly! Well, maybe it's not that serious seeing as my love is not beyond measure or reason, but still, it is more than sheer theatrical excitement, it is rapture at its finest.
First things first, contrary to every single musical ever adapted to the silver screen, all of the singing performances in Les Misérables were recorded live, in real time. This enabled the actors to act/sing at their own pace with the accompaniment actually accompanying them as they would if performed on stage. It made all the difference.
Hugh Jackman was remarkable as the protagonist, Jean Valjean. I am always pleased to see Jackman venturing away from his Wolverine-esque roles and back to... acting. He has always been an incredible actor, and it was refreshing to see him showcase his talents yet again. His singing was spot on. You could genuinely feel every ounce of pain and rage during "What Have I Done?" and the ending high note at "Bring Him Home" was impressive to say the least. Also, I felt the true change in Valjean occurred after bargaining for Cosette and escaping from Javert. Valjean, a man who devoted his life to God, yet always had an inkling for revenge, finally was able to let go once he discovered the love he had for a daughter and his duty as a father. I'm not positive if that whole carriage part is actually in the original musical, but regardless, it was one of my favorite scenes.
If you watch the film this really goes without saying, but if Anne Hathaway doesn't win the Academy Award and the whole lot for Best Supporting Actress awards, I am going to start my own revolution! In the little time her character, Fantine, has on the screen, I - like most people - felt the most for her. I truly cannot critique on her acting and singing separately because much like it should be in any musical role, they were one in the same. Though Hathaway's singing was more than a wonderful surprise, I swiftly forgot about being impressed to being swept away in her entrancing performance. She breathed this role. "I Dreamed a Dream" is the defining song of Les Misérables. I have heard countless renditions of it over the years, some even before I learned it was from this musical. Hathaway's version takes the cake. It takes the whole damn cake. She didn't bother asking if anyone else wanted to try a piece or if they would like to take some home for leftovers. She just took the whole fucking cake. Sorry for randomly getting crude, but I have never been so moved by a musical piece before in my life, and to think that it wasn't even from the theatre? Preposterous. Seriously, she took all of the cake, and she'll take all of the Oscars, too.
I have always been a huge fan of Russell Crowe, but his take on Javert was somewhat disappointing. Sure, he hit the notes, and he acted the part, but I was unshaken by him. Javert is a villain, and Crowe was not nearly nefarious enough to portray such a villain. For starters, I wished his singing tone was lower, darker. Crowe is used to getting the quiet roles that pack an unexpected wallop (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind), and though Javert is a tightly wound military man, he is also militant. His own self-loating is supposed to resonate in his obsession to capture Valjean. At no point in the film did I feel Crowe's exigency. Every action was monotonous (much like his singing).
Another let down for me was Amanda Seyfried. Though she didn't have much screen time - which was probably a good thing - her role as Cosette is the most essential part of the film. Cosette is supposed to be the one thing in the whole world Valjean and Marius are fighting for, yet Seyfried's take didn't make her at all deserving - both in desire and in acting praise. Don't get me wrong, she was far from terrible. She did do a baller job hitting that soprano1 note. Still, I feel as though they could have casted someone else.
The two hidden gems of the film were Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne. I later realized this is what Barks does best, learning that she played Eponine in the 25th Anniversary concert. Her solo, "On My Own," was a surprisingly sad part in the film for me, and her duet with Redmayne was beautifully executed. Speaking of which, I have seen Redmayne recently in the movie, Hick, and thought he was superb, but his role as Marius is bound to take his career to unforeseeable heights. The set of pipes on this kid! He transitions from his chest voice to his falsetto effortlessly in, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," another song that I wasn't expecting to rattle me as much as it did. Barks and Redmayne weren't two actors singing or two singers acting. Much like Hathaway and Jackman, they fused the two perfectly.
As far as cinematography, directing, sound effects, and a concluding paragraph goes, fuck that! I'm tired. Cough up the eleven bucks you may or may not have post-holidays and go see this movie already!
ps. For an inside look on how they recorded/shot Les Misérables, click here: Les Mis First Look