For those who do not know the story a former prisoner, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), is in hiding after skipping parole. He rescues Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a dying prostitute and then adopts her daughter before getting caught up in a French Revolution whilst still being chased by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). I say "a French Revolution" and not "the" intentionally. This isn't the one with Marie Antoinette and the guillotine. It's surprising how many people who, even after seeing the stage-show, believe this.
I think the general consensus is that Hathaway is the stand out performance in this film. As Fantine, she truly exemplified the benefits of singing live on camera. Although not the big booming belt I'm used to, her 'I Dreamed A Dream' dug deep into the emotional truth of the song and was utterly haunting. She deserves the Oscar which I'm sure is coming her way. It's strange to think this is the same girl from 'The Princess Diaries'
Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried both surprised me as Marius and Cosette. Listening to previews of the songs several weeks ago, I was a little worried for these two but on film it worked beautifully. 'A Heart Full of Love' was a highlight of the film for me. Another couple who were much better than expected (especially after seeing Sweeney Todd) were Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers. Unfortunately at times the direction and orchestrations let them down.
The stage actors were a delight. I has no qualms for Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) and Samantha Barks (Eponine) knowing they could handle the score. 'On My Own' was wonderful on film and Barks somehow managed to perform it stronger than at the 25th Anniversary of Les Miz. Also for anyone playing West End Where's Wally when watching I found Alexia Khadime and (possibly) Diane Pilkington, my first Elphaba and Glinda, in Lovely Ladies and a Marius and Enjolras (not sure of the actors names) at the Barricades. Oh, not to mention Colm Wilkinson and Frances Rufelle but you couldn't miss them.
Now for the stars of the film Jackman and Crowe. I won't beat around the bush, neither had the vocals for this score. Crowe managed to surpass my (pretty low) expectations but Javert needs a much stronger voice. Jackman was the star of the piece and at times he was perfect. The smaller songs like 'Valjean's Soliloquy' and 'Who am I? worked fine and he could handle them. Other songs his acting pulled it back but I cannot forgive 'Bring Him Home'. This song is incredibly difficult for anyone to sing unless you have a huge range. Unfortunately Jackman does not and this was a low point of the film for me. Maybe Hooper should have allowed one or two songs to be dubbed or at least modified.
That's covered the huge cast. Now for some technical details. The costumes and sets were amazing! Despite knowing many of the filming locations (I was sat in a cinema about 100 yards from where they filmed 'Look Down') this really looked like revolutionary France. I'd be shocked if the production designers and the costume department don't get the Oscar.
Hooper's direction was strange at times. A clear close up of an actors face for 3 straight minutes should not work but somehow it did. Well for the first 3 songs to use it and then it became a bit dull. Hooper and the cast have been touting his decision to have everyone sing live on set for months as many things. I've heard' "revolutionary" (haha, that's punny) and "groundbreaking" from nearly every single actor. As a musical fan I feel I should point out Rex Harrison sang live in 'My Fair Lady' but on the whole it worked very well here. It allowed actors to give new and unique takes on songs, many have seen hundreds of times before, and still perform them beautifully. However I do wish some moment were dubbed or at least modified as some songs were painful to listen to.
I think my biggest pet hate were the changes to lines in songs and the new parts added in. Some of the changes were bizarre and simply broke the rhythm and rhyme of songs. I hope these changes aren't absorbed into the stage show as many seemed completely out of place and random. Now seems a good time to talk 'Suddenly'. It was okay but nothing special. The only purpose it served was to gain an extra Oscar nomination. A nomination which won't be won as the songs not that exciting.
I think I've probably been a little harsh on this film. I know I'm comparing it to the stage show and they're two different mediums. However overall I loved the film. I thought it was touching and beautiful and some of the score was perfection. Unfortunately the miscasting of Javert and Valjean let the film down. I still love you Wolverine and I know you have a Tony, but the vocals just weren't good enough for this score.
Afterthought: If anyone hears someone mention Su-Bo please slap them on my behalf? Thank you
A thought after my afterthought: Did Cameron Mackintosh have a cameo? I swear I heard he did but didn't see him.