I know what you’re thinking, what is a movie review doing on a book blog? Well, kids, this movie is based on a musical that’s based on–wait for it–a book! And until I re-read the book and write a decent review for it, this will have to work! Besides, I’ve been trying to get this stupid thing posted for a year now, so what the hey.
Convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) breaks his parole to begin life as a better man, but is pursued by the relentless Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Along the way, Valjean encounters factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and promises to care for her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Also stars Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. And for the theater geeks…Colm Wilkinson, Hadley Fraser, Killian Donnelly, Gina Beck, Katie Hall, and Robyn North also make cameo appearances.
Well, there’s the easy part, now onto the good stuff. Watch out, here there be spoilers!
I’ve heard some say this was epic and others call it a train wreck, but I fall somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t as fantastic as it was drummed up to be, but it was worth waiting for.
To get the negative stuff out of the way…Tom Hooper had an ambitious vision, to be sure, but he went overboard. Take the live singing, for one thing. The idea of it sounds great, but it doesn’t lend much and not all of the cast could handle it. The realism is fine with me and isn’t a bad step in the intended direction, but other details felt way too contrived and refuted any realistic ones beforehand–the rain in “On My Own” was particularly annoying. Hooper’s camera work wastes
sound stages scenery with so many close ups and narrows the movie’s entire aspect, interfering with the desired “epic” feel. The chase scene into Paris, one of the best in the book, was rather disappointing when so much more could have been done with it. There was no suspense, no tension, no nothing!
And this is more of a nitpick with the musical in general, but I’m not a fan of “Fantine’s Death.” It just seems too…mellow. Especially factoring in Anne Hathaway’s melodrama. I prefer the book, with Javert bursting in revealing Valjean’s true identity and telling Fantine she’ll never see Cosette again, and her dying in shock. Think how much more intense “The Confrontation” would have been after that!
Onto the principal actors–Hugh Jackman deserved an Oscar! He’s known for extensive character preparation, and reading the book multiple times definitely went into his favor, because he WAS Valjean! It’s a travesty he was working with a score just out of his range, because he has a great baritone and struggling with a tenor role couldn’t have been a walk in the park. “Valjean’s Solilioquy” in particular is the sum of it all. He was reaching for those high notes (but he fell a few times…you see what I did there, using lyrics?), but it was the acting that carried the entire scene. Holy crap! Russell Crowe wasn’t bad, but he wouldn’t have been my first choice for Javert. He nailed the “bloodhound” aspect of the character and was relentless as hell, but he wasn’t intimidating enough for me, and he didn’t cope with the live singing so well. “Stars,” Javert’s character detailed in two minutes of song, was flat. Literally. Hard as I tried to keep from comparing the movie actors to stage actors, I kept thinking of Hadley Fraser’s run as the inspector, and Crowe just…didn’t work. His chemistry with HJ was perfect, though. The Valjean/Javert relationship is one of the central points of the story, and every scene they did together was so intense!
Supporting cast–I didn’t believe Anne Hathaway until “I Dreamed A Dream,” then I cried my eyes out. I literally had to pause the movie and get myself together before I could keep going, and that was the one and only time I felt anything for what is usually one of my favorite characters. Too doe-eyed, too melodramatic…maybe she could have been better with a different director? I’m really stumped as to how she earned her Oscar, to be frank. The revolutionaries in general had the best pipes of the cast, but Eddie Redmayne did the impossible and made me LIKE Marius! WOOT WOOT! If only we could do something about that stupid haircut! Amanda Seyfried…meh. If you absolutely insist. There’s no freaking way she could have pulled this off in live theater with that tiny voice of hers. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were a riot as the Thenardiers, plain and simple, and I had flashbacks to Sweeney Todd watching them, especially with Cohen’s performance. Samantha Barks wasn’t bad; it’s pretty cool they got a stage Eponine to play movie Eponine and I thought she was good overall, but “On My Own” was over the top on all counts, for me, and that includes Sam. I still cried during “A Little Fall of Rain,” though.
I have to ask, why do people call this movie depressing? Sure, it’s a detailed look at the suffering masses (even more detailed, with Hooper gunning so hard for awards), social stigmas, and the struggle for survival that pervades the ages, but in the end it’s all about the triumph of the human spirit through adversity, and there’s nothing depressing about that. I shed tears aplenty as I watched, some of them out of sadness and some in exasperation at production and direction, but by the epilogue I still felt this sense of victory that keeps me from calling this a sad movie. I’ve sat through it half a dozen times and I pick it apart more and more as I watch, but it’s the spirit of the piece that wins me every time. Hugo’s long-winded digressions didn’t kill it in the book, and Hooper’s iffy direction didn’t kill it in the movie. I’ll chalk this one up as another could-have-been and love it for what works, and on that note I’ll call it a day.