Strangely, it has taken me weeks to sit and start writing about Les Misérables. Maybe I was still digesting the movie, or maybe it was because every time I tried to begin the review, my brain said goodbye and started singing Stars or Red And Black. Anyway, I have finally drawn myself together, and now it’s time for me to talk about Tom Hooper’s musical experiment.
Wow, I wish I had something bad to say about the film… It’s going to make me sound so biased! But I liked all of it, even Russell Crowe’s “rocker” voice (more on that later). Yes, I am still rooting for Argo* to win Best Picture at the Oscars, but I want Hathaway and Jackman to win as well. Even if only one of those statuettes sounds realistic right now (more on that also later).
*And I am rooting for Argo and not for Les Miz because I know the Academy is going to ignore this musical. It depends on the year, and this is not the year of a musical winning. But that doesn’t actually matter. Singing In The Rain was ignored 60 years ago, and now it’s considered the best musical film of all time.
Let’s start discussing the decision of singing live, and what it means for the film. I’ve heard some critics saying that, even though they give good performances, their voices are not as good as the ones from the stage musical, because at some points, they crack. This shouldn’t be seen as a flaw, but as an advantage of live singing: they sing what they feel, and those “cracks” reflect the emotions of the characters. If Fantine starts singing and suddenly she has no voice left, it’s not because she can’t express herself as nicely as a stage singer. It’s because she is dying. She is not supposed to have but a reedy voice to sing.
But not only are the performances outstanding. Tom Hooper manages to create a continuity throughout the film that the viewer can observe in every angle, every shot and every transition.
Whenever Valjean and Javert have a scene together, Jackman appears from a high-angle shot and Crowe from a low-angle shot, setting the type of relationship they have during the 17 years that the movie covers. Another right move for Hooper is to film the key scenes in only one shot, allowing the actors to give their best without having to stop. These scenes provide a look that is more similar to the stage musical, and the singing bits there are simply astonishing. Clear examples of this are the renditions of I Dreamed A Dream or Valjean’s Soliloquy. This last song marks a turning point in the movie, finishing the prologue and starting the proper story. And Jackman’s final cry cannot fail to move every single person who is watching. It’s the moment when Valjean realizes that the Bishop has changed his life with a single action, when his motto in life becomes “my soul belongs to God”.
Talking about Jackman, he won a well deserved Golden Globe for this performance, and he could be worthy of an Academy Award. After all, the whole film rests on his shoulders. The story ends when Valjean ends, and begins when he is free. But the odds are that Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win. Again. It would be his third win, and Meryl Streep herself would give him the award. I wish the voters would give Jackman a chance this time, but Day-Lewis is playing their most charismatic president in a Spielberg film. There is nothing to do. And Jackman will have to wait. The clear winner, though, is Anne Hathaway. The little amount of time she gets in Les Miz is enough to make anyone’s heart shrink. There is no question about her Oscar.
I found myself enjoying particularly a song that I had never paid much attention to: Stars. I liked what they did with the parallelisms between that scene and the one later in the film with Javert too. Some people have criticized Russell Crowe for not having a voice as fit for a musical as the rest of actors, but one mustn’t forget that the power of the acting performance is as important as the quality of the voice. In this case, the voice isn’t bad, only different. And Crowe’s delivery of Javert seems genuine, as if his type of voice, with a rock accent, was required for the character. Kind of like Gerard Butler in The Phantom of the Opera, back in 2004.
No more should be said about the film. It HAS to be seen. I could type thousands of words about each scene, but watching them is easier. The movie is magical. See? I’m completely biased.
Only one more thing: the ending is superb. It is absolutely impressive, carried by Hugh Jackman from an intimate scene to a majestic final song that gives optimism after so much misery. And there is quite a lot of that in Les Misérables.
The Thénardiers didn’t disappoint me: they were the perfect comic relief for a film so sad.
The transitions that establish the time leaps are also remarkable: both times the character (first Valjean, then Javert) looks up and the camera moves away and up, only to go back down and start a new scene.
As I feared, Éponine was cut down. I didn’t mind to see On My Own in a different place, because it would have slowed down the barricades, but they minimised her role to a point where it didn’t really looked like Marius cared at all about her. At all.
A symbol like Do You Hear The People Sing was one of the scenes I liked the most, even if it was short. Yet, the way it starts quietly with Aaron Tveit’s Enjolras and ends with everyone singing along, it is pure sentiment.
With all the boost given to Hathaway, it feels like some supporting actors have been forgotten. Samantha Barks is amazing as Éponine, and so is Tveit. But Eddie Redmayne is the most undermined of them all, and he does a heartbreaking and spectacular work as Marius. The first moments of Empty Chairs At Empty Tables sung a capella are breathtaking.
Enough. This is the less critical critic one could write.