Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter
The big screen adaptation of the beloved musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg has finally made it to the big screen, and it has left the die-hard fans in an uproar. Did they do justice with their beloved musical? Did they cast the right actors? Are the voices good enough? Can they get the cast recording out of their head for three hours to appreciate new voices or interpretations of the songs? I have seen the stage version a couple of times and have listened to the cast recording countless times. I will try to keep my comparisons of the two to a minimal, but it will be hard.
Prisoner 24601 Jean Valjean (Jackman) has been released on parole from his guard Javert (Crowe). He stole a loaf of bread and has since been in the arms of the lawful Javert. Valjean is taken in by the Bishop of Digne (original stage Valjean Colm Wilkinson) and given food and shelter. He has a revelation after the generosity the Bishop has given him. He breaks his parole and vows to live a just life helping others. Javert’s hunt to capture Valjean once and for all has begun.
Eight years pass and Valjean has taken a new identity to become a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. A fight between the female workers breaks out as they discover Fantine (Hathaway) is sending money to her daughter Cosette. Cosette is living with the Thénardiers (Bonham Carter and Cohen) and their daughter Eponine. The Thénardiers are innkeepers that pick pocket and steal from anyone entering their establishment. Fantine is kicked out of the factory and turns to prostitution in a desperate attempt to make money for her daughter. Valjean promises to Fantine that he will take care of Cosette. He approaches the Thénardiers and gives them enough money to take her.
Nine years pass and life has only gotten worse for the French. Marius (Redmayne) and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) decide to start a revolution as the war wages on. Marius spots Cosette (Seyfried) amongst the crowd one day and instantly falls in love. This does not bode well for Eponine (Barks) who has long been in love with Marius. Gunfight and turmoil separate Cosette and Marius while it brings together Javert and Valjean to finish their duel that started many years ago.
One of the best choices director Tom Hooper made was to have the actors sing live on set instead of having the music prerecorded. Many movie musicals have all of the music prerecorded first and then have the actors lip-synch during filming. From what I have read, each actor had an ear piece that played the piano part so they could stay with the music. It is a pretty daring move that I found quite effective. I feel like it allowed the actors to really delve into the acting of the songs while singing them at the same time. Some of the actors were better at this than others. Hathaway’s showstopping “I Dreamed a Dream” is so heartbreaking to hear and watch. She is sobbing her way through it and makes the lyrics so gut-wrenching. You will forget about any other time you’ve heard it, especially if it was done for some reality show that made the woman a huge star now. I won’t mention names as I cannot stand that weak rendition. Back to the topic at hand. Eddie Redmayne is another actor that made the live singing look effortless. His song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is another weeper. This concept does lead to the music to sound a little less refined and pretty than you may expect it to. There is a rough and raw quality to it that may be a little jarring for the die-hard musical lovers.
Crowe and Seyfried are getting the most flack for their performances, but they did not bother me as much as I would have thought. Their voices are very different than how fans have heard their characters sung before. Crowe has more of a rock/pop sound to his tone. He does not have the trained musical theater sound to it. I think he is the one actor that is working the most outside their comfort zone which does show at times. We’ve heard Seyfried sing in Mamma Mia so her voice come as no surprise. Shockingly enough, Jackman came as a surprise in a different way. I have heard him sing numerous times, so I was excited by his casting. There were moments when he sounded just beautiful while other times his tone really jarred with me. Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne were just phenomenal in every regard. Hathaway will most likely walk away with her first Oscar which will be well deserved. I would love to see Redmayne get some more recognition. Samantha Barks stands out as well as she returns to the role of Eponine after playing in on stage in London.
Another aspect of the movie that will stick out at you is the cinematography. Much of the movie is done in close-up shots, especially during any of the more serious solos. It works with the live singing to help bring out the raw emotion of the song if all you are focused in is the actor delivering the powerful lyrics. To contrast that, the camera uses sharp angles whenever it pans out on the deslote streets of Paris.
Like I have previously stated, it is hard to watch the movie and not compare it to the stage musical. This happens anytime you see a musical adapted for the big screen. Sometimes the material does not transfer well from stage to screen. It takes a supremely talented director, cast, and crew to make the adaptation faithful to the stage version while making it work for the camera. Musical numbers may be cut, characters may reduced from how they appear on stage. It comes with the territory. Not everything that works on stage will work on film. Hooper and his talented cast deliver a top-notch movie musical that stays faithful to the original material. The musical has an amazing score from the solos to the larger group numbers like “One Day More” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?”. Some of the musical numbers will have you sobbing in your seats, and you will most likely come out with the music stuck in your head. It is the best stage to screen musical adaptation since 2002’s Chicago.
RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)