Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Les Miserable - My official review

I have three words for you


That's it.

NO!  Just kiddin - I have lot's more to say.........

I purposely did NOT read any reviews or google any audience reaction prior to last nights viewing.  I wanted a clean slate in my head.  I knew nothing other than the the big names were Gladiator, Wolverine and Catwoman.

The theater was sold out and a nice vibe to the room while we watched over 20 minutes of trailers.

Once the film started - I was enraptured and other than a sip or two of diet coke my eyes were glued to the screen.

Now to be fair, I have read the book more than twice.  I have seen it performed live on the stage.  I have watched other film versions.  I really had no expectations other than I knew the story, I knew the power of it's message and I was anxious to see how this version treated it all.

I was not disappointed.

Facts you should know:
1.  All singing was done live on camera - no lipsyncing.  That is important to remember
2.  Some of the performers are also theater regulars so their experience certainly lends to the film
3.  You will cry.  If you don't - you have no soul

Okay, now my thoughts

Let's talk Hugh Jackman.  Considering he was discovered on Broadway in the production Oklahoma, I had in my mind he must be able to sing fairly well.  He did more than fair.  I didn't even recognize him in the opening scenes.  He was fabulous and while he does sport some sideburns later, he had already established himself as Jean ValJean to me, so Wolverine wasn't a part of the picture.  Two stellar moments:  The abbey in which he changes his heart and life.  The ending scene of his death.  I don't think I have ever seen two more powerful scenes done with this story.

Russell Crowe.  Not sure of the casting decision behind him, but I will say that as much as critics are panning his performance, I didn't find it offensive.  He was singing live.  His background is not in voice.  He gave it his all.  Have there been better Javert's?  Yes.  But his final scene is one to be remembered. Also, because of his simple singing (no loud vibrato) I could understand his lyrics better and learned something about the character that I either didn't pick up on before or didn't remember.  

Anne Hathaway. For all the jokes about her looks, her acting, her singing.... I was impressed.  Again, remember she is singing LIVE.  At first her lack of vocal strength was a little distracting to me, but then  when I put it into context of the character, it actually made her as Fantine completely believable.  Who is a pathetic, sad, broken woman.  I predict an Oscar nomination for her.  There is no way you can watch her perform "I dreamed a dream" and not be moved to tears.  Again, not a stellar vocal performance, but really is a slovenly, wretched, miserable poor french prostitute REALLY gonna have the voice of an angel?  This woman is at her lowest point in life and manages to eke out a heart stirring and soul shaking performance.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thendardier's were delightful.  At first glance, they both looked familiar as actors but it wasn't until I saw the credits that I realized who they were.  Excellent job.  Mild comedic relief.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius was absolutely brilliant.  He was an unknown for me and at first I wasn't sure of his voice strength.  However, by his solo "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables", he had won me over as a fan.  Stellar job.  Excellent work and perfectly cast

Isabelle Allen as young Cosette stole my heart the minute she appeared on screen.  Her soulful eyes and perfect pitch brought the young girl's plight straight to my heart. I fell in love with her and cared deeply to see how her scenes were done.  As the older Cosette, Amanda Seyfried was less impressive. Of all the voices, I cared for hers the least.  As in, I didn't like it when she opened her mouth at all.  And by that I mean, I inwardly cringed when she came on screen.  Her singing reminded me of the old Disney Snow White.  Think goat.  Beautiful girl, but her voice was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

Samantha Barks as Eponine.  Perfect.  So well played.  Her singing, her emotions.  All on point.  

How does film compare to theater?  I don't think it's fair to compare them.  On stage, it's all about the music.  The singing is done by professionals with incredible range and deepness to their voices, their instruments, their art.  The orchestra cannot be matched as the soundtrack rolls forward.  I've yet to see a stage production where a character lacked in the vocal department.  The music, is the highlight of a stage production.

The film version?  With the ability of a camera for close up shots, the acting takes center stage.  The emotions as they sing give deeper meaning to the lyrics and to their characters.  Nothing like watching Fantine's face as she sings such a haunting "I dreamed a dream".  Same for young Cosette performing  "Castle on a cloud"

Of course the stage limits the set production whereas a film can take it 6 levels better.  The barricade and fighting scenes are incredible and that little Gavroche?  Love him!  He became more of a character to me.

And while nothing can really compete with a live orchestra that is not to mean the soundtrack is lacking in this film.  Far from it.  When the people's anthem "Can you hear the people sing?" begins, well - it got my pulse pounding as much as ever.

This particular director seemed to include much more of a religious tone to it than in previous versions.  There is much more meaning behind the monsignor and the candlesticks, Jean ValJean giving his life to God, Fantine believing she will see her daughter again, and of course the final scene with Jean ValJean passing.  The entire theme of mercy and justice is felt throughout it and during many solos, I could see myself with maybe some of the same feelings?  Jean ValJean's wonderment at the mercy shown him.  His desire to change.  Javert's conflict of the drive for justice yet feeling strangely compelled at the idea of mercy.  Marius's survivor guilt.  Pure, Christlike love of Jean ValJean.  It's all there and captured beautifully.

Some have voiced concern over the appropriateness of the film.  Let's can I put this nicely.......GET REAL PEOPLE!  It was a horrid time in France.  People were suffering unimaginable things just to survive.  Fantine sells her body.  It ain't a cake walk kids.  It's war, it's poverty, it's oppression.  It's MISERABLE PEOPLE!  It holds true to Victor Hugo's novel.  It's PG13.  And for good reason.  There are battle scenes and some sauciness on the pier and in the Thenardier's inn.  Fantine's scene where she finally sinks to her lowest is what you would expect, but I must say tastefully done.  You feel her self loathing and hatred oozing from the screen.  And let me state clearly - IT IS NOT PORN. (gosh, chillax peeps)

Now as to other reviews dissing the film.  I can see where critics could find fault.  I needed to think it over, let it soak in, and compile my own thoughts before I felt like I could be fair in a review.  Overall, it was extremely well done.  If you have never seen or don't know the story of Les Mis, then this film is the perfect one to see and understand the story.  You will be able to follow along perfectly.  But then, if opportunity presents to see it on stage, I would highly recommend that as well.  Both versions are unique and complete the entire experience of "Les Miserable"

It's a film I will own.  I will go see again at the theater if the opportunity presents itself and as soon as it comes to the stage near me, I will do my best to procure tickets.  I became a fan the day I turned the last page in the book and while there are always pro's and con's to every adaptation and production, this one was well done.  Deserving of every Oscar nomination it will garner.

And my favorite quote of the entire story

"To love another person is to see the face of God"

True words Victor Hugo, true words indeed.


tammy said...

Perfect. Can't wait to see it. But I will wait until the crowds die down a little. I need my space.

Middle-aged Mormon Man said...

Thanks boss. We are going today.

Cheeseboy said...

I won't cry.

Ann Marie said...

I liked it alot.. especially considering Amanda and Anne are my two least favorite actresses.

But.. it was mildly inappropiate to me.. to much boobadge for my liking.. and riding santa and etc left me a tad uncomfortable.

I think Jackman deserves an Oscar as much if not MORE than Hathaway.

LOVED the complete story told.
Loved the ending.
Cried like -- a lot.
But.. I won't be buying the movie.. or do I care to see it again.. and I for sure will skip this soundtrack.

namaste said...

great review. you clearly love this story. i'm not really into it, but my daughter loves it. i'm gonna show her this post. and because of your detailed write-up i'll look for it when it comes out on video.

Pedaling said...

I loved it and your review is 100% for me!
Every word!

I would add the only thing I would change is that Fantine should have had her hair back at the end...for some reason that really bugged me- other than that - which was no big deal, really- I was completely happy.

I loved how it moved at a fast pace - never once a dull moment.

I cried, streams of tears, during several scenes.

DesertHen said...

If the movie plays at our little theater, I will have to go see it based on your review. It really does look and sound like they did a good job on the movie.

Vanessa said...

I concur with every word you wrote! I loved it. I felt I understood the story so much better.

I wanted Eponine to hit that "known" harder in "On My Own". But since that is my favorite song in the whole soundtrack, I had high expectations.

I agree with Sheila. I wanted Fantine's hair back at the end.

Vanessa said...

I concur with every word you wrote! I loved it. I felt I understood the story so much better.

I wanted Eponine to hit that "known" harder in "On My Own". But since that is my favorite song in the whole soundtrack, I had high expectations.

I agree with Sheila. I wanted Fantine's hair back at the end.

Amy said...

I am glad I read your review. I have been on the fence about seeing it - mainly because the Anne Hathaway snippets in the previews make me cringe. My son wanted to go tonight but he was called into work. After reading your thoughts, I believe I will go with him this weekend.

Marsha Ward said...

Excellent review of an excellent treatment of an excellently outstanding book. Thank you.

Kristin Klein said...

Agree, agree, agree - and I will certainly see it again (probably soon!) and will probably buy the sound track. I really liked Russell Crowe and enjoyed his performance, vocals and all. It's not your broadway on-stage musical - never intended to be, very different which lends itself to a whole different interpretation.

Marius - I thought his voice was amazing! Loved him! He was my favorite vocal of the show. I loved the ending of the movie, I think it was almost my favorite part! Great interpretation at the end there, liking the religious theme.

Anytime you want to see it again - give me a call :)


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