I was a bit disappointed overall, despite some stand out performances - notably from Ann Hathaway who was absolutely incredible, and from Eddie Redmayne, who I hadn't expected to be THAT good. But the movie wasn't as good as I had been expecting, if I'm honest, or as good as the source material deserved. However, I am going to see it again tomorrow with Flyingnorth, so maybe I'll get a different perspective.
I was SO excited all day yesterday. I was squeeing with excitement. I went to Mum's house and when she opened the door, I marched in singing "Do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men, it is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!" and she joined in, and we marched into the living room singing to annoy my father who was sitting on the sofa watching TV (he's not a Les Mis fan!). So we had a good old laugh from the outset. Mum's had the tummy bug that's going around so she hasn't been eating much for a few days, or going out much, so I think she was looking forward to it. We walked down to the Imax, had a brief moment of panic when our tickets printed out wrong and it looked like we weren't sitting together, had this resolved by a lovely girl called Alex, and then we went and took our seats. They were fabulous - right in the middle of the entire auditorium I think. There was a big buzz in the audience - Mum and I wondered how many were already fans and how many were coming to it new.
Then it began. Squee!!! The excitement was almost too much to bear. Mum and I have seen the stage show about 20 times - over about a 20 year period though! We are definitely massive fans - I've never seen any other show as often - although clearly we are lightweights when compared to this lady
I suspect that if you came to it new, you'd just be blown away by it, because it's such an amazing story and a brilliant score. If you're a big fan like me and mum, you might find some parts jarring, although, to be fair, Mum seemed to absolutely love it and didn't fall asleep once in the three hours, which is practically unheard of *g*.
I felt quite mixed about it. I definitely enjoyed it - the story and score are too good not to. But I had my doubts, going in, about whether Tom Hooper was the right director for the job, and I didn't like some of his directing choices. I don't think he has the right experience to tackle a musical this epic. Also, they inexplicably cut or reduced some of my absolutely FAVOURITE bits, while putting in some other bits that I didn't particularly like.
Case in point - Fantine selling her back teeth! UGH! WHY put that in? It wasn't in the stage show and it's GRUESOME! We get the picture - her life is already awful enough without showing THAT! And yet, they cut one of my favourite verses from the scene where the Thenardiers are 'selling' Cosette - the one where they make it clear they'd sell her to a potential child molester. "One more thing, one small doubt..." Why cut that? Is the subject matter too delicate? Yet it's so pertinent to the scenario!
They also cut one of my absolute favourite moments of the stage show - when Valjean has stolen the silver and the soldiers bring him back to the bishop singing that he told them the bishop gave it to him, and the bishop cuts in with "That is right." It's a moment that sometimes sends shivers down my spine when seeing it on stage, but they lost the entire moment by having the soldiers SPEAK the words, saying something like "he has the nerve to say you gave them to him, Bishop" with no singing build up or crescendo and lacking the lovely staccato sounds of that song, and then the Bishop sort of half sings, half mutters, "That is right" so the entire thing was gone. GRR! I love that bit!
They did put in some moments that I think were designed to improve the narrative flow for a film audience. They probably worked, and I didn't mind them, but they mucked around a bit too much with the barricade/Marius/letter sequence to my mind, without bothering to clarify AT ALL the rather confusing post-barricade moments when the audience doesn't realise that Marius doesn't KNOW Valjean saved his life until he finds out. This is one of the weaknesses of the stage play and could have been easily resolved in the movie as they were making changes. Also, they cut down "Turning" one of my favourite songs, to about a verse, which was a huge shame. And I deeply disliked Hooper's directorial decision to focus in on such a long close up of Marius's face during "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" that we couldn't actually see the bloody chairs and tables he was singing about!
But, my biggest problem with it, which I hadn't anticipated at all, was that Jackman and Crowe weren't right for the roles. Crowe's voice, while pleasant enough, is completely wrong for Javert. I anticipated less than stellar singing performances from some cast members, but I was taken aback by just how much this affected my enjoyment of the show. I had thought the superior acting skills would make up for it, but actually, Crowe looked out of his depth and uncomfortable to me in this role, and I never got the sense of WHO Javert is, the way I did with SOME, although not all, the actors I saw in the role onstage.
Jackman...sigh. I like Hugh a lot. I was very pleased with his casting as I knew he had musical theatre experience. BUT...his voice isn't strong enough for Valjean. His acting was better than Crowe's to my mind, but his vocal performance wasn't great. "Bring Him Home" which can be an absolute show stopper onstage, causing the audience to break into a long round of applause, just felt like a damp squib onscreen - just another song. Maybe it was the way it was filmed, but I think it was also his voice wasn't right or simply magnificent enough to do it justice. I had a problem with both Crowe and Jackman slurr-speaking some of the lines rather than singing them cleanly - this happened throughout. It didn't make it naturalistic and it wasn't a 'singing tic' that any of the other actors had, so I don't think it was intended to be the style of the thing. It grated one me quite a bit.
There was also the decision to have Jackman singing in some kind of an 'accent' at the beginning of the movie, which fades by the time Valjean becomes mayor. And all the people in the mayor sequence seemed to be from the North Country of the UK and singing in THAT accent for no reason I could fathom, not least when Thenardier popped up singing in comedy French. WTF?
I disliked Baron Cohen's casting, and I wasn't wowed by his performance as Thenardier, although I found him inexplicably sexy in the role *g*. His performance was macabre and has that awkward comedy style that he's made his trademark but makes me uncomfortable. I liked Helena Bonham Carter much more although I didn't like what they did with her "I used to dream that I would meet a prince" section of their song. It wasn't WRONG, it was just an interpretation I've never seen before, and didn't particularly care for. I thought the entire rendition of Master of the House
was too much of a muddle, too much of a parade of the grotesques and lost a lot of its humour and some of its meaning in the process.
Their story was made clearer and more focussed than it is onstage, whilst also losing another of my favourite scenes at the end when they join in the dance and comment on it in a vulgar way. I also disliked the sewer scene - too yucky! And the way they cut down a lot of the songs in the later story so it lost some of its punch. The Thenardiers and Eponine suffered most from this.
Eponine's part was cut down so much that it was hard to care much about her death, although Samantha Barks was great. "On My Own" is the best song about unrequited love I've ever heard, and she totally did it justice. They also cut the lovely bit where the men carry her body away so it was all a bit 'meh' compared to the stage show.
The new song, "Suddenly" was okay, and I can see why they put it in there, but it didn't rock my world, and I'd rather have had them keep in more of the elements of the stage show than stick in a new song.
Those were my main disappointments, but here are the things I really enjoyed about it:
Ann Hathaway. She was the absolute star of this movie. Her Fantine is the best I've ever seen, and her rendition of "I dreamed a dream" was heartbreaking. She was astonishingly good - her voice was beautiful and clear and you LIVED the emotion with her. She totally deserved her Oscar nod, and I would be beyond astonished if she doesn't win that, hands down.
Eddie Redmayne. Marius isn't one of my favourite roles, but he was superb. I had no idea he had such a good voice! Again, he was clear, and his voice was strong and full of emotions. His delivery of Empty Tables was wonderful, even though the direction of the scene let it down. I've never particularly liked Marius onstage, but here I got a real sense of him as a young, principled guy, very dashing, but very REAL in his emotions and sense of justice.
Gavroche - brilliant little kid, even if he and little Cosette looked almost identical *g*. Little Cosette was lovely too - perfectly capturing the character's innocence, sweetness and vulnerability. Who wouldn't want to scoop her up, give her a doll and a new bonnet, and cuddle her?! Amanda Seyfried was wonderful as adult Cosette too - let's be honest, it's a pretty thankless role, but she was bright and spirited and her singing was sweet and clear.
Enjorlas - also perfectly played. Just the right blend of idealism, ego, and romance!
They cut down the role of Grantaire far too much, which is a shame as he's a good counterpoint to the idealism of the other students. I loved the way they sang their battle cry during the General's funeral and the way the barricades went up, but the actual narrative and singing was a total muddle after that, compared to the stage, where it all made far more sense. They just kept cutting stuff down and down and down at this point of the movie, so it lost a lot of its pacing and high points. It's a shame, because they really dwelled on the early parts with Valjean, his convict years, his release and subsequent degradation and then the Fantine bits, but it seemed to me that when the story got bigger, and there were more characters involved, Hooper lost it. He was much better at the more intimate, personal stuff. And I think that's something we could have predicted from the fact that his best known movie is The King's Speech.
Special shout-out to Colm Wilkinson, who played the bishop, and who originally created the role of Jean Valjean onstage all those years ago. That's a lovely bit of casting, and he's got such a squidgy, lovely, benign face that at the end when they sing "to love another person is to see the face of God" and close up on him, you really feel that IS the face of God *g*.
I loved the way they did the runaway cart (mum and I always nudge each other at that bit) and the way they had the man Valjean saved help them later on when he and Cosette were on the run. That worked really well.
It was great to see the fight between Valjean and Javert being done in such a physical, epic way, compared to onstage. And their duet together rocked - one of the times I felt the casting really worked brilliantly well. I could also tell they loved doing it together *g*.
Gavroche's death was beautifully done - my mum actually shed a tear at that point, although she told me she just had a problem with her eye. Right! LOL!
One of the best bits of the entire movie was the ensemble singing in "One Day More" which was so rousing it elicited a round of applause from the audience, which is unusual in a cinema. The audience also clapped at the end - which felt right to me, as it was so long and epic and so much loved, even if there were flaws in this rendition of it.
Afterwards, I walked Mum home, and we marched into the living room singing again, while Dad put a blanket over his head and pretended to be asleep *g*.
I'll be interested to see what my opinion is on a second viewing. Now I KNOW about the bits they left out or did weirdly or wrong, maybe I won't be as disappointed and will be able to appreciate what they did more. We'll see!
Phew - if you got to the end of this, well done. Let me know your thoughts. I'm sure people will have different views.