I finally saw Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables last night. And I have thoughts.
- Having seen the musical many times (both the lazy susan and the current 25th anniversary productions), I was impressed by Hooper’s audacity as a filmmaker. He succeeds in creating not merely a movie version of the stage production, but one whose narrative and emotional arcs provide bigger payoffs than does the stage show.
- Three words I’d use if I were a 30-second TV spot: epic, breathtaking, and goosebump-inducing.
What I Liked:
- Hooper’s direction. He rightly lets his actors and the already-effective music do the work for him. There’s little gimmick here; the story is told pretty straightforwardly, and it works fabulously. Hooper gives each actor room to breathe — tight, continuous shot after tight, continuous shot — and let their faces and voices conjure the magic.
- Non-pretty singing. As much as I love hearing “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” or “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” sung “professionally” on stage, there’s something honest and revealing about hearing Boublil and Schonberg’s words sung through tears and snot. Suddenly their words carry a lot more emotional heft than I originally realized.
- Danny Cohen’s cinematography. Holy cow, this movie is gorgeous. You could take any still from the movie and frame it as art. It’s that stunning.
- Hugh Jackman. Sooooo I’ve never been a Hugh Jackman fan. Sorry. But he deserves all the accolades he’s getting. This is Valjean’s story after all, and Jackman’s transformation from 24601 to deathbed Valjean is astounding. Even when covered in sewer poo after rescuing poor Marius, Jackman’s, uh, stage presence, demands attention and an Oscar.
- Anne Hathaway’s “I Dream a Dream.” Hathaway is good, and her heartbreaking rendition of the now-Susan Boyle classic is worth a nod. I found the rest of her performance a little uneven, though, like I’m seeing Hathaway play Fantine. Most heartbreaking moment for me came right before the song, in which Fantine is forced to prostitute herself for Cosette’s sake. The sheer look of resignation on her face spoke volumes about how much of herself she’d give for her daughter. I just about lost it right there.
- Samantha Barks. As awesome as “On My Own” is, I’ve always had trouble seeing Eponine as anything but a whiny, lovesick girl. Barks’ portrayal is so honest that my cynical black heart finally opened up to feel for this tragic character.
- The “a-ha!” moments. The film filled in many, many, many gaps from the stage production, chief among them why Valjean is so damn compelled to do all the nice things he does post-24601 and how intense the Javert-Valjean chase really was.
What I Really Wanted to Like but Still Feel Conflicted About:
- Russell Crowe’s Javert. I looooooooooooove me some Russell Crowe, but either this part was miscast or Crowe was told to try and sound pretty. Jackman is clearly a better singer, but when Crowe attempts it, he falls plenty short by comparison. Javert has always been kind of an a-hole villain anyway, and Crowe’s “pretty” singing distracts.
- Sacha Baron Cohen’s Thenardier. Was I expecting Bruno or Borat? Maybe. I just couldn’t get behind him in this role, even though it looked totally awesome on paper. (Also, why didn’t I figure out earlier that he and Helena Bonham Carter were also in Sweeney Todd? Boooooo. Someone take away my card.)
What I Didn’t Like:
- Nothing. I’d see this film again in a heartbeat.