I went in to see Les Miserables as a complete novice, which I’m sure affected my appreciation of the film. I knew it was based on the novel by Victor Hugo, that it is and has been for a long time, a musical, and that it includes songs such as ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, ‘On My Own’ and ‘One Day More’. Aside from that, all I knew was snippets of information I’d gathered from trailers, friends talking about it in passing and a few assumptions based on the lyrics in certain songs. So it’s safe to say my mind was more or less open to anything as I sat down to watch, and in the end I’m glad it was because it made me appreciate that a lot of the emotional punches the film delivered caught me by surprise.
I’m mostly going to focus on the performances and some of the stylistic choices. Because
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean: The word that first pops into my head when I think about Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is ‘disappointed’. It is important for me to stress that I think he is a great actor and that the acting he did in this movie was great and really touching. That being said, I think I expected more from him vocally. As the character that in many ways carries the story throughout the movie he just wasn’t consistently strong enough as a vocalist in my opinion. I think he was amazing in ‘Soliloque’, really moving me with his song to God as he was contemplating his choices. After that I can’t really remember a song I really liked him on vocally. Visually and as a performance it was really well done, but it became too repetitive and dull for me towards the end.
Russel Crowe as Javert: He wasn’t my favourite by far, but I thought he held his own well enough. I found his acting really subtle and understated, both of which I tend to appreciate from actors. I could see his conflicted beliefs and it was easy to see him gradually letting go of his convictions as he let go of his need to catch Jean Valjean.
Anne Hathaway as Fantine: As someone who’s never been a big fan of Anne Hathaway as an actress, consider me a convert! Even after having heard only good things about her performance I was not sure I would love her in Les Miserables. I was pretty much convinced the second she came on screen and not once did I think she did a subpar job. She did justice to Fantine’s fall from grace in a way I never expected from her, and her close up shots while singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ might be one of my favourite acted scenes in a while, and definitely one of those cinematic moments that will stick with me for a long time. In my opinion, she deserves every award she wins this spring!
Amanda Seyfried as Cosette: I don’t really have strong opinions of any kind about Amanda Seyfried, to be honest. I don’t understand why she chose to make her vocals sound sort of chirpy like a bird. Her voice melded well with Eddie Redmayne’s higher register when they sang together, but other than that it sounded a little strange to me. While on the topic of Cosette I should also mention Isabelle Allen. I think I liked her portrayal of Cosette better, but mostly because I sympathised more with her character when she was young and stuck in a home with guardians who didn’t care about her at all.
Samantha Barks as Eponine: I’ve said for years now that I don’t like ‘On My Own’ because it’s so overplayed and tragic, and therefore avoided it completely. However, after watching the movie I now understand the motivations behind the song and I find myself really liking it. I immediately found myself more drawn to the bond between Marius and Eponine over that between him and Cosette, and as such this song was a really sad moment. Samantha Barks was sadly underused in this film. What we got was good at least. I especially loved her death scene with Marius, which was just heart-breaking and beautiful to watch.
Eddie Redmayne as Marius: The boys at the barricade part was my favourite bit of the movie, and Marius was a big part of that. I don’t tend to like the ‘love at first sight’ intense infatuation storylines in movies or literature, but the way Eddie Redmayne played made it tolerable. I think he belongs with Eponine, but his devotion for Cosette was really sweet. As for his singing, I find it hard to believe Eddie Redmayne had never sung professionally before this. Of all the actors involved in the film he was not the one I would peg for a novice, for sure. I thought he did well throughout, but he was absolutely fantastic on ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, to the point where I still get chills listening to the recording where you can hear as he starts to cry in the scene.
Aaron Tveit as Enjolras: Enjolras was not the most fleshed out character in the movie, but he was one of my favourites. I’m a sucker for a patriotic character with a burning passion and strong beliefs, and if they die I’m probably going to love them all the more. Weird, I know. I really loved his conviction and belief that fighting for France was worth giving his life for, and his death was probably the hardest one to watch, not least because of how symbolic and swift it was. As for Aaron Tveit, he was probably my favourite singer, an as of now ‘ABC Café/Red & Black’ is my most played song on the album.
Honourable Mentions: Sascha Baron Cohen was really entertaining as the inn-keeper, and though I’m not a big fan of Helena Bonham Carter, I think she was entertaining as well. Other notable performances were George Blagden as Grantaire and Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop, to name a few.
A few words about the film in general:
I loved the fact that they made a musical without pre-recorded lip synced musical performances. It is completely understandable why the movie industry chooses to do that to save time and money, but if anything this proves that with the right cast it shouldn’t be necessary. The live action enabled the actors to really put across their emotions in their vocals in a way you’re less likely to get with lip synced scenes.
Secondly I want to mention the way large parts of the movie were filmed as if it was happening on a stage. I appreciated the way the camera usually left one ‘side’ unseen, representing the fourth wall of a theatre show. This, along with how the actors seemed as if they were looking into the camera at times throughout the movie, made it feel more like a theatre production on film.
Lastly, I absolutely loved the close-ups on a few of the solos. It showed off the talent of the actors by letting them do their entire solos in one take, something which is very rare in movies in general. For me this worked especially well with both Fantine and Marius. That being said, I do think keeping the same framing and the same close up on every solo throughout the movie was unnecessary, and that it could have used a few montages and some variations at times.