Posted by: mydarkestplaces | January 6, 2013

Les Mis. The movie.

For those of you who know me (which – let’s be honest – I’m fairly certain is all of you) I’m a wee bit obsessed with Les Mis (the musical). I have both the anniversary shows on DVD. The tenth album on every digital device capable of carrying music. I listen to it, without fail, at least four times a week – often times more.

Which is all my way of saying I know this show. Really, really well.

I know there are people who are bigger super fans than me, but I’ve got some game.

When news broke that there was going to be a movie I thought Christmas had come early. It was awesome. And then with the cast announcements I wasn’t convinced I hadn’t died and gone to heaven. Every name mentioned was a mark in its favor (except Russell Crowe – more on that later). Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks, even Colm Wilkinson (the original Valjean) threw his hat in the ring. This is to say nothing of the stamp of approval coming from Cameron Mackintosh signing up as a producer (Mackintosh, you may remember, was the original producer of Les Miserables on London’s West End as well as Phantom of the Opera, Cats!, and Miss Saigon). With so many votes of confidence, the bar that started naturally high only went higher.

I could barely contain my excitement as I sat down in the movie theatre. Then Hugh Jackman’s scraggly face loomed large on the screen as prisoners sang of the importance of not making eye contact with their jailers. I can’t lie, I was singing along with. The movie was off to a great start.

We followed along with Valjean’s saga ardently. Hugh Jackman did an admirable job conveying the anguish Valjean feels – particularly after arriving at the Bishop’s doorstep and absconding with the silver. “Valjean’s Soliloquy” was brilliant. Colm Wilkinson – as would be expected – was brilliant as the Bishop. Anne Hathaway was heartbreakingly beautiful as Fantine. She sang well and really imbued the conflicted emotions I can only imagine mothers everywhere experience every day; sacrificing her own well-being to provide for her child.

Fast forward a bit to the brightest spot of the movie: Sascha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were perfect as Monsieur and Madame Thernardier. They were spot on with their dramatic and lyrical interpretations of “Master of the House” and “Bargain Waltz of Treachery”. To the point where I really couldn’t have asked for better.

It was following this point that things really started to devolve for me.

Some of my favorite songs from the show follow the “Bargain Waltz”. Including one by Javert (Russell Crowe), so I had to steel myself. “Stars” was horrible. Well, Russell Crowe in general was wretched. His voice was flat and monotone. His acting was two dimensional as ever. Lucky for him (not that he or his people will care) while my bar for the overall film was incredibly high, my bar for him was equally low. This means that there were actually a couple times that I was surprised at how well he used his voice. Unfortunately, these moments were few and far between.

“One Day More” was one of the most disappointing songs in the whole movie. Which was sad for me because that’s a song that typically has me bawling when I hear it. It was somewhat balanced out by the “Epilogue”. Anne Hathaway again gave one of the best performances that I’ve seen in a musical movie. The very end, with the full “chorus” following Valjean’s death was epic – well, as epic as a movie could be.

Now, I have theories for the inconsistencies and areas of opportunity in the movie. For one, the actors’ voices, almost all of them, would have come across perfectly in a theatre in front of 500 people. The acoustics coming from a stage are infinitely more forgiving than a sound isolating microphone stuck in the actor’s face. That wouldn’t have done a lot to solve all the flat and sharp issues, but it would have certainly mitigated a lot of them.

To be clear, the movie wasn’t awful. At least, it wasn’t as awful as it could have been. There were moments of brilliance, there were moments of wretchedness, but overall I’d give the movie a solid C grade. It was a musical for movie people as opposed to a movie for musical people. So, while I won’t go see it twenty more times as I had originally planned on, I would recommend people go see it at least once if you are at all a fan of movie musicals. Just don’t go expecting a musical experience. You’ll leave disappointed.


  1. I definitely agree with you. I enjoyed the film to a certain extent, but beyond the first half of the movie it really started to deteriorate. By the time it was over, I was asking myself how long it was going to be before Hugh Jackman stopped singing. I miss Colm Wilkinson (who was excellent as the priest) and I wish they’d cast for vocals rather than fame. (And the Thernardiers were indeed raucous and amusing and excellent.)

    I did think Marius was excellent- and his voice was wonderful. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables went very well. Either way, it prompted me to listen to the 10th anniversary edition of the musical, which makes me much happier anyways. :-)

  2. That’s interesting to me. If only because I almost walked out after the first half. Especially When they did “On My Own” before “One Day More”…what the heck??

    Marius wasn’t my favorite, but he certainly could have been worse. And “Empty Chairs” was definitely fabu.

    Great minds obviously think alike. I definitely listened to the 10th on the way home. I may have put in the 25th DVD when I got home.

    I like to cover all my bases.

    • Hahaha – I don’t blame you! And yeah, it became painful. But hey, at least more people will listen to the musical now. I’ve been telling everyone to get the 10th/25th anniversary editions and listen.

      Plus, who can help hanging around the house singing Les Mis to themselves? (Not me… It’s a musical every day around here, haha.)

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