Wednesday 23 January 2013

Les Miserables - Movie Review (Spoilers)

For the record, I'm not talking spoilers about what happens in the movie since I assume almost anyone who goes to see it will probably have a passing familiarity with the play.  I'm talking spoilers about how the plot has been adapted between the mediums.

Legal disclaimer done ... I loved it.

Now, I love the stage play.  I have been singing along to the London Cast soundtrack for over twenty years.  The combination of the music and story creates an almost perfect pathos that never fails to move me emotionally.

When I saw the poster a few months ago and learned this was coming out, I was immediately sold on Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.  He's got a gorgeous voice (and body) and the acting chops for the role.  I had my doubts about Anne Hathaway, who can sing but who I have trouble believing in non-adolescent roles.  I was shaking my head about Russell Crowe.  Had no idea if he had vocal talent but was skeptical.  Besides, I love Roger Allam, who played Javert in London.  He had a commanding stage presence and a bass voice that just sent shivers up my spine.

Since I couldn't see the movie right away, I indulged with the soundtrack.  More concerns started popping up.  Jean Valjean's signature piece "Who Am I?" wasn't on it.  And the pieces with Hugh Jackman sounded very thin compared with Colm Wilkinson's deep chested delivery.  But everyone I knew who had seen the film absolutely loved it.  I was still determined to go.

And all my concerns evaporated like rain from cobblestones.

The performances completely distract from any vocal weaknesses.  Russell Crowe did a great job at portraying Javert's fanatical devotion and inflexibility.  And it turns out he can sing (mostly).  Anne Hathaway made me cry over and over.  And Hugh ... did what Hugh does best.  But the real surprise was Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier.  She absolutely stole every frame of film she appeared in.

One thing did throw me off sometimes.  There were some lyrical changes to the songs.  Almost every production does this but since I've been singing the same lyrics for 20 years I found it a little jarring. 

There were some plot changes that I thought heightened the story.  In the film, Jean is actively trying to hide from Javert when Fantine is sacked by the foreman.  It explains what to me was always a surprising lapse of Jean's character.  And at the end, only Fantine escorts Jean to heaven.  Having Eponine there never made sense to me since those characters had no real connection.  (And I've always felt a little sorry for actresses playing Fantine since they're in the first hour and then have to sit for another hour and a half or more before the finale.)

I also liked the juxtaposition of "One Day More" and "Do You Hear The People Sing".  It's been a long time since I saw the play but I'm fairly sure that wasn't how it went.  But it should.  It's powerful.  But then you'd have to get rid of intermission and there'd be a problem.

Generally I am not happy with unhappy endings.  (Ask Dave how much of a fit I pitch when they kill Fred in the episode "Hole In the World" in Angel.  And I'm not just talking the first time I saw it.  Every time with the DVD.  It's not pretty.)  But somehow Les Miserables transcends that.  The wrong girl gets the guy.  Jean never gets to live in peace.  Javert kills himself rather than invest in character growth.  And Eponine and Fantine's lives just suck, to put it plainly.  But I still love it and even though it makes me sad, it's a good kind of sad.

Awesome movie.  Going in the collection.

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