Last night I attended a press screening for the movie version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, due out in theaters on Christmas day. A huge fan of the musical (although admittedly, I have not read the book) I wasn’t sure how well it was going to translate to the big screen, but I had high hopes. For me to trek into the city on a weeknight in December, you know it had to be something good.
When the movie started, we were immediately transported into 19th-century France with hero, Jean Valjean, being released by his nemesis, Javert, after 19-years of imprisonment due to stealing a loaf of bread. The storyline followed the musical productions fairly accurately, and while it was long, it moved quickly most of the time.
Directed by The King’s Speech’s Academy Award-winning director, Tom Hooper, I was blown away by the cinematography. Some scenes were close-up and intimate, while others were grand and sweeping, but while the movie has received some criticism for this supposed contradiction, I found it intriguing and enjoyed the variety.
Hugh Jackman did a fabulous job in his role as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway stole the show when she sang I Dreamed A Dream. Russel Crowe wasn’t quite up to par with the others when it came to his singing, but he definitely captured the character of Javert with his signature intensity. A surprise standout to me was Eddie Redmayne in his portrayal of Marius. He was incredibly convincing both as an actor as well as a singer, and I hope he wins some awards for his performance.
Overall, the music was phenomenal. The singing had some high points and some lower points, but when I learned that every take was sung live, I forgave them for some of their less than stellar vocal moments. I particularly enjoyed it when they overlaid 3 and 4 vocal parts; that was really cool.
Given that this was a Hollywood production, I found it fascinating how openly they dealt with the issues of faith and redemption and law vs. grace. I realize that these are the themes of the story, but I felt like it was handled surprisingly well.
However, there were parts that I found unsettling. Some of the scenes were disturbingly graphic, particularly the one surrounding Fantine and her fall into prostitution. There is something to be said for leaving some things up to the imagination, and that is where this storyline works better for stage than than the big screen. I would certainly not recommend this move for anyone younger than . . . I dunno, 18? I’m pretty conservative, but those images are pretty vividly ingrained in my mind at this point and I would not want them ingrained in my child’s. Just sayin’.
One other item of note for those with delicate sensibilities: there were scenes after the French Rebellion that were eerily reminiscent of recent current events which evoked a whole other well of emotions that I wasn’t counting on.
That said, I found the movie riveting and would definitely see it again — if only for the musical performances. No, they weren’t quite up to Broadway standards, but they had a raw emotion and intimacy that only the big screen can bring. If you’re a Les Mis fan, I would definitely recommend including this movie in your holiday plans. Just leave the kids at home.