Reviewsday – Les Miserables

It’s hard to get the true measure of something on a single viewing, tasting or other method of sampling. Cinematic experiences are particularly true for this, in my experience. The hype of visiting the cinema and the engrossing viewing environment; the big screen, the surround sound, the dimmed lights and the inability to pop out for a cuppa and get distracted loading the washing machine all add to the enjoyment of the film. I know I find that I’m much more likely to rave about something I’ve seen at the cinema, than I am to rave about a first viewing of something on the smaller screen.

Because of this, I’ve decided that the only way to review a film is to watch it once on the big screen, then let it sit for 4 months, watch it again on the small screen and make the review after that second exposure. Or at least that’s what I’ve done with the subject of this week’s reviewsday. With the slight addition of having listened to the soundtrack off and on throughout that 4 month break.

So, without further ado, I bring you my review of Les Miserables.

Les Miserables poster

First thing I need to do is to issue, as is often the case, a disclaimer. I have not read The Brick; aka the literary source material for this story. I have, however, seen the West End production, and I’ve even seen the film they made in the 90s with Liam Neeson taking on the role of Val Jean and not singing a note. So I know a bit about Les Mis. I’ll go as far as to say I was already a fan before I saw the most recent film adaptation. Because of that, I’m not going to give you a review of the story – it’s been retold in so many ways and I’ve seen/heard so many slightly different versions, it’s just going to get confusing. Instead I’m going to give you a 2012 film-specific review, looking at the cast and some of the direction and giving my opinion on them.

Now, I’m a list-based reviewer. That’s just how I roll, and that’s how I’m going to go about this. My points will be vaguely in film order, simply because I made notes during my small screen viewing and that’s how it worked out!

Hugh Jackman. Upon first viewing I liked him, but having listened to the soundtrack several (hundred) times, there’s just something I don’t like about his voice. It’s too energetic at times; too much a caberet star, and it doesn’t have the gravity I want in my Jean Val Jean. To be fair to Hugh; the two JVJs I’m comparing him to are Colm Wilkinson and John Owen Jones (who I saw on stage as the Phantom); both truly epic performers, and both with a bit more oomph to their voice. Watching the film again last night I sort of forgot my complaints; when watching him acting, Hugh does a fantastic job, but listening to the audio on its own lets him down a little bit. This is most likely due to the fact that they recorded it ‘live’ on set, which has to be exhausting, and I would imagine the acting and the singing each lost a little bit in trying to get both captured at the same time.

Russell Crowe, because I can’t start with one and not follow with the other. Who knew he could sing? Again, as with Hugh, he’s not got the same depth of tone as the West End cast recordings I’m familiar with. I adore Earl Carpenter’s version of Javert. I do, however, rate Russell’s version; I really see in him the black-and-white logic of Inspector Javert, and the utter conviction he has in his faith and his duty. I particularly liked the scenes between Val Jean and Javert – the two actors played against each other very well. There’s a video on youtube with Hugh and Russell singing Confrontation and they just look like they’re having so much fun!

Anne Hathaway – I know she’s persona non-grata on the ol’ interwebs, but I’ve always been an Anne Hathaway fan. I don’t get why people don’t like her. Fantine’s a tricky character; she’s not in the film for long enough for the audience to love her, but I think Anne did wonderfully, and I Dreamed A Dream was wonderfully performed – it’s such an emotional song, and was heart-aching to watch on both screens.

Samantha Barks – Now, here’s where it gets interesting; Sam Barks is from actual musicals; she was Eponine in the 2th Anniversary Concert, she knows how the theatre audience want to see their Eponine, and so I couldn’t help but to love her performances. What I didn’t love, however, was what the adaptation did to her character. In my mind, Eponine is lovely; she fancies the pants off Marius, but she helps when he asks for help; even if that help is pushing him toward Cosette. She climbs the barricades mid-battle to deliver news that she has given his note to Val Jean. In the movie she’s a scheming, conniving cowbag, hiding notes and just generally being unhelpful. Why?!?!

Also, whilst we’re on this particular soapbox, what the heck did they do to On My Own? The musical arrangement was beautiful, Sam’s voice was lovely. The scene, however, looked like a rather dodgy pop video. It’s everything I disliked about the direction of the film; the overuse of out-of-focus camera shots, the bizarre need for a rain deluge every time Eponine sings about rain, and yet remaining dry as a bone in every other shot. What is this?!? I may be over sensitive, I love Eponine, I love On My Own, I had such high hopes for that bit, and found it so utterly wanting. It’s not even just that scene, the strange out-of-focus camera work happens fairly often, and the mysterious sudden rain shower reappears when Eponine is felled at the barricades, just in time for A Little Fall Of Rain. Maybe the rain’s not as metaphorical as I had thought.

Quickly through the rest of the cast so as to not make this too much of an essay;

  • Aaron Tveit’s Enjolras is sheer perfection. This may be because I went into the film with already a little crush on the character, a crush which was certainly not harmed by that earnest face and amazing eye acting. The way Enjolras stares at Marius, and then later at Grantaire – makes my lustful knees go weak!
  • Speaking of Grantaire – major props to George Blagden; he wasn’t in the film for long, but he gave such an emotional performance.
  • Eddie Redmayne was a fantastic Marius. I believed in his love for Cosette, and his devotion to the revolution. Yes, his singing voice was a bit different to everyone else’s, but I kinda loved it. He sounds like he’s been airlifted from a Sinatra film, and there’s nowt wrong with that!
  • Amanda Seyfried was good as Cosette; a bit shrill at times, but not enough to distract from her performance. Bloomin’ difficult to warble along to in the car though!
  • Sasha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter made for amusing Thenardiers, but upon second viewing I wasn’t so easily amused. I think it’s because I can’t put aside the actors from the roles – I look at Sasha Baron Cohen and I see his other performances; Borat and Pirelli in particular, just as I look at Helena Bonham Carter and see Mrs Lovett, and every kooky Tim Burton character she’s ever played.
  • Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) on the other hand is seventeen shades of perfect. His EVERY moment on screen is exactly right.

My favourite scene in the movie was probably Do You Hear The People Sing; the revolution’s beginnings in the crowds; a slow building song of revolution. In the cinema I got goosebumps (and that was the moment the tears started flowing, not to end until the credits rolled.) I also loved One Day More; it’s impossible to do that sort of montage in the theatre, and so there wasn’t much to compare it to, but even so it exceeded my expectations; as they prepared for battle. Marius’s return always makes me smile, especially with the addition of Redmayne and Tveit’s eye acting.

In fact, the whole short-lived revolution needs to be talked about. It was engrossing viewing; I flinched at every one of the gunshots. I wept piteously as Gavroche fell. I felt my heart breaking as the battle turned and the students were banging on doors begging for salvation. That final scene; Enjolras and Grantaire standing together, knowing death was moments away. That brief moment was so perfect, and such a lovely nod to the fans, especially those who maintain the pair were more than just brothers in arms.

Javert’s unravelling further served to break me; I did not expect the moment when he removed his medal and pinned it to Gavroche’s chest, and so that surprise utterly devastated me in the most cathartic way – his resolution had broken and his downfall had begun. At his suicide I wanted to applaud, as is right and proper in the theatre but most unacceptable in a cinema. Yes it was brutal, but the whole film is brutal in just the right way.

I do have to mention a couple of small annoyances (aside from the aforementioned camera work and rain scenes) – I didn’t like the sewer scenes. Yes; sewers are dirty and full of poo, but when Val Jean and mostly-dead-Marius emerged with gross poo-encrusted faces it broke my concentration just a little bit. They could have restrained the make up artist just a bit on that one, I think. Also – what the fudge was going on with their accents?!? I know the film was set in France, and to have them all doing dodgy French accents would have ruined it; but they could at least have picked one English dialect. I heard everything from Cockney London to Yorkshire to Irish, and that’s not even focusing on Hugh Jackman’s ever changing tones. It wasn’t a major big deal, but it was a bit irritating.

I’m going to bring this to a close on two last good moments of a fantastic film. Firstly; Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. This song, for me, is the end of the story; everything after is the gentle wrapping up; like coasting downhill. Eddie delivered this song so beautifully and so heartbreakingly, highlighting the devastating loss of so many young men.

And finally; Colm Wilkinson’s cameo as the Bishop made me too happy; seeing the original Val Jean on the big screen was a much appreciated hat tip to those of us who recognised his voice/face.

Les Miserables

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