This movie absolutely blew me away. There were things I didn’t enjoy about it, but overall it was incredible. I’m a huge fan of the musical and was singing every word along (under my breath so as not to disturb my fellow movie-goers; I’m not a jerk). They did a wonderful job with the story. There were minor tweaks and lyric changes to suit sets and scenes that differed from the stage production a little. When you’re making a movie you have to power to do a lot more with setting, and they took full advantage of it.
Disclaimer: the story and the music help the movie a lot. I’m not sure how much of my love for the movie originates from my love of the musical. From its theme of redemption in the tale of Jean Valjean and Javert, to the passion and naiveté of the young revolutionaries, the viewer cannot help but be inspired. The music boosts this feeling and the heart soars. Seriously, Claude-Michel Schönberg is a genius at capturing emotion through music on the stage and making the audience feel it. Being surrounded by the music and the gun/cannon fire of the barricade and the sounds of life in 19th-Century Paris was a whole new dimension of awesome.
The second half is much better than the first. The first has its moments, but the second is non-stop. When revolution enters the plot, emotion heightens and excitement builds like crazy. Paris in 1832 is, of course, much more visually dramatic in the film than the stage production, and the images of a city occupied by soldiers and perched on the brink of boiling over into violence and chaos are daunting and overwhelming.
But of course, what we all want to know is, how did the actors do? I am frustrated that they cast such big names and focused more on fame than how well they sang. The vocals for this musical are so incredibly powerful and moving that the actor needs great vocals to convey their part.
Hugh Jackman/Jean Valjean: I was so disappointed with his performance. I know that he’s performed on the stage before and been vocally trained, but his voice annoyed the hell out of me. It had a strange, strained, high-pitched quality that didn’t convey nearly as much as is required of Jean Valjean. Everything else about his performance was incredible. He captured the internal struggle of Valjean, his transformation from criminal to saint, his hatred and then his love and compassion, his sorrow and his guilt. But the voice just wasn’t there, and Valjean’s is the voice that carries the musical. Jackman wasn’t where he needed to be.
Russell Crowe/Javert: Actually not as terrible as I expected. There were some parts, yes, when it seemed like there were only three notes out of the seven that he could actually sing. And he had difficulty moving from one to another. But still. Not as awful as I expected. And he definitely brought what I thought was a new take on Javert. Less manic and more brooding and sullen. Still obsessed with vengeance, but less frenzied about it than some of the Javerts I’ve seen/heard.
Colm Wilkinson/Bishop: The original Jean Valjean!!!! As soon as I heard his voice, I knew. I’m SO glad they included him in the film!
Anne Hathaway/Fantine: I was worried about her but this girl killed it. In the good way. She was incredible. Absolutely conveyed the terror and the heartbreak of a mother whose dreams have been dashed and whose hope for her child is yanked away from her. And her voice was one of the best in the film. I was concerned she wouldn’t be able to belt it, but damn she let it loose. She was an amazing Fantine, and I was breathless and in tears any time she was on the screen. Get this girl an Oscar, will ya?
Amanda Seyfried/Cosette: Big surprise, I hated her as much as I expected. She did a great job hitting those high notes, and her voice is a sweet and fluting as a bird’s, but her vibrato makes me want to punch her in the face. Not at all the Cosette I want to remember for the rest of my days. I understand how hard it is to find someone that can reach that high note, but there are plenty of girls on Broadway who can. I wish they’d used one.
Samantha Barks/Eponine: Speaking of stage girls (West End, in this case), holy hell this woman is amazing. And her waist is tiny. She’s gorgeous, she’s incredibly talented, and she’s the only one who looks French. I am overjoyed that they used this girl as Eponine. E is one of my favorite characters. I just wish she had more on-stage/screen time. But her voice, her voice, is just lovely. She is fantastic at conveying all of her passionate longing for the oblivious Marius. She is the perfect martyr for love.
Edward Redmayne/Marius: He’s adorable. And his freckled, wide-eyed countenance is perfect for the part of the love-struck, youthful Marius. His voice was mediocre. Or perhaps it was actually really good and I was simply distracted by how much he moves his head when he sings. In any case, I really enjoyed his performance, despite my neutral feelings on his singing. And his rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” just rends your heart into shreds.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter/The Thenardiers: Excellent and hilarious. I adored their scenes and they added much-needed comic relief to the otherwise heavy story. Whoever was in charge of casting did a fantastic job in this decision to cast these two together and in these roles. If their voices are a bit weak, it doesn’t matter because they’re ridiculous and over-the-top anyway. They’re there less to convey emotion and more to make you laugh, which they definitely do.
And finally, the people who deserve the most and get the least publicity–the boys of the barricade, including Gavroche:
These barricade boys, in my opinion, were infinitely more talented as vocalists than the leads in the film, and were overlooked because they don’t have the star-power of Jackman, Seyfried, etc. But they were definitely my favorite part. They were passionate and believable, and their vocals seem effortless and expert, where it’s clear the others are concentrating very hard on getting every note right. Also, this guy
is an AMAZING Enjolras. I absolutely adored him. He started a revolution in my heart <3
I’ve been a huge fan of this musical since, like, forever. Ok, so maybe about 8-9 years. Which seems like forever to me. The film captured all the emotion and brilliance of the musical and added its own special elements that can only be achieved on the screen. I could tell that this production was lovingly made, and am happy that those in charge of it worked so hard to make it something to be enjoyed both by long-time fans of the musical and by people who had no idea what to expect. Highly recommended.