I’ve pondered on the recent movie adaptation of Les Miz, taking in various viewpoints and attitudes. I’ve talked with others.
And here’s my review.–
Les Miz is the kind of show that produces vastly different reactions from people. Many critics hated it, but audiences flocked to it on stage. A common thread in discussion of the show is that it’s “powerful” or “epic.” I think we all long for something larger than ourselves, and I think that many who have an inkling of history want to feel some connection or identity with something that has paved the way for today. Seeing Les Miz on stage perhaps fills that need.
I have written elsewhere on this blog of my reaction upon first seeing the stage version of Les Miz more than 20 years ago, in Kansas City at the Midland Theatre. I wanted to relive that same reaction in this movie version, and a couple of times, I did. But most of the movie left me wanting more.
Les Miz is the kind of show that should pin you back in the seat with splendor and majesty and heartache. The director and his crew missed one opportunity on film by keeping the orchestra way back in the sound scheme.
One of the glories of the stage show is the orchestra and the orchestration. But in this movie, the orchestra comes across as players of incidental music, not active partners in the story itself. Ballet moves me because of its combination of aural and visual; this film left the aural aspect in the back room, and failed to win me over. I just wanted an orchestra that soared and made something of the moments of orchestration that really matter.
Regarding the acting and singing: the director set out with a vision of how to do this show on film. He stuck to that vision, and presented an artistically jumbled final product because of it.
I’m a singer, a teacher of singing, and a pretty decent musician. As a musician, I just can’t get past out-of–tune singing and clearly sub-standard vocal production, and I cringed at times, both because of the singing, and because of the choices made about how to present some of the singers.
Javert’s music was transposed down so that the quasi-pop singer Russell Crowe could attempt to sing it. Crowe failed.
And as my wonderful student Charlie Ingram pointed out yesterday, Javert and Valjean should be equals, so that the conflict is perceived as real. That Crowe was one-dimensional as Javert, and that his singing was so dreadful in its breath management and its tonal production, means that his character could never meet the challenge of making us believe the conflict.
Hugh Jackman as Valjean grew on me as the show progressed. From Fantine’s death onward, I kept buying in. His singing lacked the nuance of Colm Wilkinson (what a jolt of thrill I got when I realized that the priest was actually Colm!), but became less a problem for me as the movie unwound.
The Eponine was in great voice, and highly believable in her portrayal, but too pretty for the role. The Thenardier scenes were too literal in their visual interpretation, without the bawdy fun and comic relief that those scenes should provide.
Gavroche? Quel adorable! (And bravo to the director for making me sob out loud, as did many others in the cinema, when Javert honored Gavroche at the last. Even now I am tearing up thinking about that one moment.)
I do wish that the elder Cosette could have sung well, as the Act One trio at the house is one of the glories of the score. Instead we had her trilling and warbling in semi-tune, coupled with Eddie Redmayne’s tortured vocal production in the role of Marius. Redmayne is truly fine an actor, and so beautiful a man, that his lack of vocal skill and way-too-engaged tongue was even more of a disappointment.
Which leaves me with the two standouts. Aaron Tveit made the case for what a trained singer can do in a small supporting role. His singing was impeccable, and he fleshed out the role of the revolutionary leader, making him believable rather than jingoistic.
And Anne Hathaway. Glorious Anne Hathaway. Who knew? Fantine will never be the same to me again. “I Dreamed a Dream” will never be the same to me again. She set the standard for what this film could have been, and in doing so saved this film from artistic mediocrity (although it’s still a muddled bag of missed opportunities). Every minute of her descent held me wrapt.
Paris appears in this film as a place that could induce me to venture into a time machine for a day, just to see the throngs and the streets. And the costumes!
The battle scenes worked, and I finally understood more of why the General’s death triggered events. Valjean’s entry to Paris and the trip through the sewers were both fine additions that helped the story line be clearer when compared with the stage version.
Others have complained about the cinematography, but I shan’t do so. I liked the close-ups, the sense of immediacy the wonky camera angles gave, and most of the editing choices. Blessed be the editor for the constant cutting to different angles during “Empty Chairs,” for I was spared the pain of the vocal dystopia evident as I watched Mr. Redmayne . . . .
The final scene, like always, had me in tears. Film allows tricks and juggles that the stage doesn’t, and the vision of Valjean departing with Fantine whilst his body stayed, stilled, in the chair is a vision that I won’t soon forget. And then, finally, the sound swelled and we were blessed with that glorious final chorus in a Cecil B. DeMille camera shot. Again, this is what this film could have been.
That it wasn’t, and isn’t, is our loss.