Though I have sworn off of writing any more movie reviews here at "The State I Am In," because my heart just isn't in it any more, I would be remiss if I did not share my thoughts on seeing Les Miserables today. I have been waiting with bated breath for the release of this film, basically ever since the last film version came out in 1998 and wasn't a musical. That's 15 years, people! To say that I was excited to finally see my favorite musical realized on film is something of an understatement.
Really, I was so predisposed to enjoy this film that it could have been terrible and I still would have liked it, but thankfully, it wasn't terrible. To be sure, there were some things that didn't work, in my opinion. Of these, Russell Crowe being cast as Javert was probably the most glaring; he just did not have the vocal chops for the role. "Stars," Javert's biggest number, is one of my favorite songs in the entire show, and Crowe's lackluster version was a major disappointment.
Though Colm Wilkinson will always be the Valjean as far as I'm concerned (and my inner fan girl was psyched to see him in a cameo role as the Bishop of Digne, with a bonus appearance at the end, when he appears to lead a dying Valjean to heaven), Hugh Jackman handled the role with apolmb. Jackman has serious Broadway experience under his belt, and it shows, not only vocally, but through his ability to emote with an intensity usually reserved for the stage.
I was a little concerned about Anne Hathaway's unconventional, more vulnerable interpretation of Fantine, but I ended up liking her portrayal more than I would have expected. I even enjoyed Amanda Seyfried as the adult Cosette. I have never liked her in any film I've seen her in, and I find her generally annoying, but wide-eyed look gives her an aura of innocence that was right for the role. On the other hand, I did not care for Eddie Redmayne as Marius; in no universe is he the kind of man you would see across a crowded street and fall in love with at first sight. The role of Marius should have gone to Aaron Tveit instead, who was cast as Enjolas. Not only was he easy on the eyes, he has serious singing talent as well: he played Gabriel in the original Broadway cast of Next to Normal.
Casting and performances aside, there were only two other real flaws with the film as far as I was concerned. First, I found the director's constant use of tight close-ups to be very distracting. I get that we wanted to capture the actors emotions in a way that isn't possible with the distance naturally created between the stage and the audience in live theater, but he went too far in the opposite direction, and it made me uncomfortable. As an American, I value my personal space.
Secondly, the director made numerous small changes to the lyrics, removing words that aren't common to American English (Herbert Kretzmer, who translated the lyrics from French for the musical, was South African), and clarifying relevant points of French history for an American audience that is most likely ignorant of 19th century European politics. The average viewer probably wouldn't have picked up on these subtle alterations, but I have listened to the original soundtrack hundreds upon hundreds of times in my life, and to me, they stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't like that they dumbed down the lyrics, and to me, the changes were a huge distraction.
Even with those two problems, I still enjoyed the movie. I still cried my eyes out when Valjean died at the end, because the film still took me on an emotional journey with the characters. It may not have been perfect, but I would definitely watch it again if I were jonesing for a Les Miserables fix. I will definitely be buying a copy of my own when it comes out on Blu-ray, and I am happy that the film has enjoyed so much success both in terms of box office receipts and awards. Hopefully, the success of Les Miz will inspire film makers to tackle some of my other favorite musicals. Miss Saigon, anyone?