As a huge fan of the musical, I have been waiting with anticipation for this movie release. I just got back from the Christmas eve 10pm showing of this movie, and I must say that I am somewhat disappointed. There were some positives, but I feel it could have been so much better.
First the positives. There are some very strong performances here.
- Anne Hathaway's performance has already drawn critical acclaim, so I won't dwell on it, except to say that the acclaim is well deserved.
- Hugh Jackman's voice tone and interpretation of Jean Valjean is quite different from anyone before, and I found myself drawn deeply to this Jean Valjean, sympathizing with his every emotion. I thought he did a great job of switching between a rough gravelly tone to a more clean ringing falsetto depending on the emotions of the character. I do have a complaint about directorial cues on one of Jean Valjean's key numbers, but more on that below.
- Eddie Redmayne as Marius gives a great performance. For the stage productions, Marius has always been one of my least favorite characters, always lacking depth with what I perceived as just immature blind infatuation for Cosette as his only emotion. In this movie, Eddie really captured each moment: his love for Cosette in the moonlight garden scene, his determination and drive for revolution, his remorse and anguish during "Empty chairs at empty tables" (a real tour-de-force performance). I thought he was wonderful.
Also, the set/locations/scenery/costumes/make up really allow the audience to immerse into the story. I think this point is one of the greatest benefits a movie setting has over a stage production, and this movie delivers on this front. From the beautiful country settings, to the grime and grit of poverty in Montreuil and Paris, there is a strong sense of realism that you can't get in stage production (they did overdo it slightly in the sewer scene).
Now on to the negatives.
I have seen a few reviews complaining about the slow pace of the film. I thought the opposite. It felt kinda rushed. I know the stage production is 3 hours long, but I wish they hadn't sacrificed the story and proper delivery to save on run time for the movie. Some of the scene transitions are rather abrupt and leaves a sense of this being an ensemble of songs, rather than one flowing story. I'm not a purist in that I will complaint about every single change from the stage production, but some of the cuts and omissions really hurt the flow of the story and leaves some key characters and relationships woefully under-developed. Having said that, I do think one addition was brilliant: the scene with Jean Valjean singing to a sleeping Cosette in the carriage as they leave the Thenardier's inn. It really gives a great insight into the change that Jean Valjean goes through and the bond that he forms with Cosette.
Enjolras seems shuffled as a minor character, which is too bad as Aaron Tveit played the part with great passion when given the chance. Even though fleeting, Enjolras, Grantaire, and even Gavroche share some moments in the stage production that allows us to bond with these characters. I felt the movie marginalized each as their own without developing a bond between them.
Eponine also seemed to be under-developed. I can't quite place it. The individual performances were very strong, but "On my own" and "A little fall of rain" didn't quite have the same emotional impact that I thought it would. I think it was due to the lack of insight into the dynamic between Marius and Eponine. There was a lot of Eponine watching Marius fall in love with Cosette from a distance, but only one instance that I can remember of Marius unknowingly hurting Eponine during their interaction. I can think of 3 or 4 such occurrences in the stage production and really sympathizing with Eponine each time it happened. Again, subtle differences, but it really detracted from the overall story for me.
Also, I didn't care for Hugh Jackman's rendition of, and Tom Hooper's direction of "Bring him home". In the stage production, this song is very subdued with Jean Valjean singing in beautiful high falsetto while watching over a sleeping Marius. There is a beauty to its simpleness, and it is almost like a glimpse into Valjean's mind as he silently sends a prayer up to God. This movie's interpretations is much more... dynamic. Hugh Jackman delivers with a stronger force as Valjean nervously walks around the 2nd story of a building looking down on a sleeping Marius at the barricade. Certainly a very different interpretation, and it didn't work for me.
One last bit of negative was the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert. I am a fan of Russell Crowe, and while he is a great fit for the look and persona of Javert, I just did not feel he fit the vocal demands of the character. It prevented me from empathizing with Javert, my favorite character from the stage production.
With as much anticipation as I had going in, I'm afraid it was a bit of a disappointment. I really wanted to like this, but came away thinking of what could have been. Certainly a must see for all fans of the musical, but it is a shame that this movie will be the sole judgement of Les Mis for millions of viewers who may never have a chance to see the stage production.