I first saw Les Misérables on stage in the summer of 2002 in New York. It is by far my favorite musical. I know the songs. I have sung them as lullabies to all three kids. So when I first heard of the coming screen adaptation of the musical, I was extremely excited. Then, yesterday, I saw the movie.
I really wanted to like the movie. And, to some extent, I did. It’s not that I disliked it, but I left the theater feeling confused by it.
It had one thing that really bugged me. And it had little to do with the acting or the music.
It just seemed to struggle to identify whether it was to be a musical or a movie. Like the film versions of Rent and Phantom of the Opera, it was searching. The music part of the equation was mostly great, but where was the movie side? After the grand cinematic opening in the shipyard, the balance of the movie was shot at an almost uncomfortably close range. Faces filled the screen during many of the solo songs. With the possible exceptions of “On My Own” and “Stars” there was an intensely personal focus on the face of the singer. But even those two lapsed into closeups. And for me, that was just too close. It just needed some space.
There were no sweeping camera shots to help tell the story, no panoramas of the settings. The finale was shot like this and was probably my favorite song of the movie. It was stirring and emotional. Then again, it was a company song, not a solo. So maybe I just have personal space issues.
While we’re on the music, it was easy to tell the difference in those who were singing actors and those who were acting singers. I was blown away by Anne Hathaway’s voice. I had no clue the Princess of Genovia could sing like that. Jackman did a solid job as well, but Russell Crowe. . .that was painful. As for the Thenardier’s, the casting was absolutely perfect. Sacha Baron Cohen was magnificent as was Susana Bonham Carter.
As for the show stealer, Samantha Barks was brilliant. I have the DVD of the 25th anniversary concert in which she played Eponine. I knew she would be great, but I had no clue she would be that good.
In conclusion, I did enjoy the film, but not nearly as much as I enjoy the musical. I realize this is likely an unpopular opinion on the movie, but you can try to convince me otherwise in the comments below.