In honor of Les Miserable hitting the big screen, we thought it would be fun to get a couple of opinions in on the movie. The first is Colleen Faris, my wife, and longtime musical fan. The second is from my Mother, Robin Faris who just helped with a high school version of the musical. Both were enthusiastic about seeing the film from the trailers alone. But did they like it? Did Anne Hathaway deliver? What about Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe? Read on!
I first saw Les Miserables in London when I was 22 years old. I stood in line for 3 hours luckily grabbing the last spare seat in the house, which left me squinting in the rafters trying to follow the pint size actors. Regardless, I was enamored. The music was captivating, and even in spite of some difficulty comprehending the whole story, I was in love. I have now seen Les Miserables multiple times thanks to performers of all skill levels, not to mention that Les Miserables has been previously adapted in a non-musical film version as well.
I was skeptical going into Les Miserables on how the film version would deliver. I honestly couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised with this film adaptation of Les Miserables. The experience of the movie made me feel like I was seeing Les Miserables for the first time. Most importantly, the movie was seamless. Since this is a film, there were no scene breaks as the stagehands set up props. The lack of breaks contributed to the flow of the narrative, helping the story be told evenly and smoothly from one moment to the next.
In addition, the freedom of seeing the sets not confined to a theater stage, but in real world images brought to life what I had struggled to imagine in my theater going experiences. In a sense, it was relaxing in that my imagination didn't have to work as there were no limits in seeing the streets of Paris come alive and breathe as its own character. For the first time, so many gaps got connected in my understanding of the story.
But what I perhaps love most about Les Miserables is the beautiful music. The film did not disappoint. The quality and type of singing set this performance apart from all others I have seen throughout my life. The songs were full of grit and far from a crisp version that you often hear on a recording. Sobs and anger seem to naturally interrupt many of the solos emphasizing the emotional weight of the story. The way the camera focused on the actor so close was something I haven’t experienced in a musical before (because I am usually sitting so far away), and is something that this film uniquely brought to life. It was a rarity to be so close to the actor to see their tears or grimace while delivering their lines with a whisper or a commanding shout.
Though the music was a highlight, some of it was problematic. The film features a new song that felt forced and unnecessary. The music in Les Miserables is classic. It’s practically Biblical at this point. Therefore, adding new music was a risky choice that didn’t pay off. If anything, it was such a contrast from how beautiful and classic the original music from the musical is. There was no need to try and make more.
The acting on the other hand was a delight. Notable performances were Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. Jackman was utterly convincing in the lead role, immersing me into the character and his believable portrayal of Valjean. Additionally, though it may have been expected for whom I assume him to be, Sasha Baron Cohen was a balanced comic relief. Here, he appeared to be careful not to overplay his comedic role. Marius (played by Eddie Redmayne) also stood out as he and his gang of rebels delivered their lines.
Russell Crowe, while a commanding presence as the antagonist Javert from an acting standpoint, seemed to struggle as a singer especially when compared to the other actors and actresses on screen. But the emotion of Les Miserables expressed in its themes of redemption, mercy, forgiveness, despair, and passionate revolution left much of the theater in tears. From the chatter in the lobby after the screening, it was evident that the movie protrayed these themes in a way that everyone could connect to.
Even though I will never forget my first introduction to Les Miserables in London, I feel like I just experienced the story afresh. The medium of film kept the experience feeling new. It comes highly recommended to fans of Les Miserables in any shape, and especially newcomers who have yet to witness its power. In spite of its minor blemishes, this is a film everyone needs to get out and experience for themselves.
As a long time veteran of Les Miserables having seen the musical (like Colleen) many times, I was incredibly excited since the moment it was announced that Les Miserables would be coming to the big screen. First, the screenplay was very well adapted from the theatre version to the movie version. Visually, this was a breathtaking film. The opening scene set the stage for the rest of the film, with grey-white overcast cloudy scenes, which repeated throughout the film. The up close way the film was shot made for some truly intense moments, such as Javert’s final on screen appearances.
The standout actor was easily Hugh Jackman as Jan Valjean. It was exceptionally done. His singing was incredible, along with his acting ability within the role. He carried the entire movie. Anne Hathaway as Fontine was a pleasant surprise and phenomenal casting choice both as a singer and as an actress. Her presence grips you right away as we quickly see her talents come together for one beautifully performed role.
In the many scenes when she is singing in tears, I had no choice but to grab my Kleenex because of the powerful emotion. Her scene where she is getting her hair cut was visceral and real to the audience. Her final scenes are quite moving, making me feel as though I was right there with her. By contrast, she appears almost angelic at the end of the film compared to her earlier moments of screen time where she is covered in dirt from the street.
Finally, scenes with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardier’s were great comic relief. It was as effective as the theatre production. Costumes along with make-up were great, especially as certain roles were specific to society at the time.
There were a couple of small downsides overall. Eponine did well and was believable as an adult, although her part as a child was very underplayed, and I almost missed her role there entirely. In addition, Russell Crowe as Javert was the weakest singer by far. He can act well and keep a tune, but I was hoping for more volume out of him, especially in the “Stars” scene.
But let not my minor misgivings about this interpretation of Les Miserables sway you from seeing it. It is by far among my favorite movies of all time. As a long time fan, they did the story and the music justice. Now to see it again on a bigger screen with the volume turned as high as possible for maximum enjoyment!