Friday, January 4, 2013

A Miserable Review

A long time ago, in a blog post far far away...

I blogged for the first time.

And now I finally have the opportunity to post the raving review I so ominously foretold of and bring things full circle.

In short, I loved the film.  But I have my complaints, of course.

Complaint #1
The mark of good editing is when you don't notice it.  Well, I really really noticed it during Les Miserables.  There were moments where the scene would become choppy and confusing, and I had to rely on my past experience with the musical in order to ground myself.

Take, for instance, the scenes where characters pop abruptly out of nowhere.  Like Thenardier and his gang attempting to rob Valjean's house.  Or Javert crashing the hospital party.

Also, Javert having Valjean "Retrieve the flag!" was kinda odd to me.  I understand that we need to see the connection Javert makes later on when Valjean lifts the cart, but it made me think that Javert regularly commanded Valjean to pick up random heavy crap just for the heck of it.

"Lift that boulder!"
"Raise that bridge!"
"Move that house!"
"Wrestle that bear!"

Complaint #2
The Thenardiers were a lot darker than usual.  Normally 'Master of the House' is a fun song that's used for some much-needed comic relief.  The film's Thenardiers were funny, but in a different way.  They were more raunchy and dark.

While it fit in with the overall tone of the film, it made me miss the lighter and funnier version I'm so used to.

However, the Thenardiers are supposed to be despicable and hated in the novel.  So perhaps that was what director Hooper was going for.  And the relief I felt that Valjean was taking Cosette away from such an awful environment has never been so potent.

Complaint #3
Valjean's death wasn't believable to me.  I think this was mainly due to his appearance.  Jackman needed to look older.  Even when Valjean is perfectly healthy he looked odd next to Cosette.  I had a hard time believing he was her father.

On the other hand, Jackman's acting was superb and it helped me overlook his (stallionesque) appearance.  Plus, his appearance in the beginning is nearly identical to the description in the book.

Complaint #4
Continuing with Jackman, his singing was excellent with a few crucial exceptions.
'Bring Him Home' was a good performance from Jackman, but I felt like it wasn't the prayer it's meant to be.  A prayer is a soft yet powerful thing, and that's exactly how this song is meant to be sung.  It's supposed to start off soft and carry to a crescendo that makes the words,

If I die, let me die!  
Let him live.  
Bring him home.

Much more powerful.  But Jackman sang it strong and loud all the way through.  Then he ended it in a strong and strained tone that totally destroyed the normally soft and sincere ending,

Bring him hooooome.

Props to him for making it his own, but I was disappointed.

And last but certainly not least...
Complaint #5
Russell Crowe's performance was certainly memorable, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.  My chief objection is with his singing.  While he can carry a tune, Crowe calls to mind Gerard Butler's Phantom of the Opera.  He had no power.  And while I'm sure a little studio magic would have spruced his vocals up, all of the singing was recorded live in front of the camera.  The end result was a weak delivery with almost no diction.  Hands down, Javert was the weakest voice in the whole movie.

Crowe's acting was something to note, however.  Javert is a beast, and Crowe played that aspect of the character very well.  The Confrontation in the hospital was, in a word, exciting.

Consider also the fight Crowe puts up when his cover is blown at the barricade.  Normally, Javert reluctantly lets them tie him up and take him away.  But not Crowe.  He whipped out his police bludgeon and turned into a muttonchop-less hurricane until Enjolras had to knock him out.

I wasn't very pleased with his suicide scene, however.  Crowe expressed little vocal and facial emotion during Javert's final moments.  Javert is supposed to be unhinged at this point, full of confusion and anger and remorse.  The novel explains his line of reason so well that by the end there's no question in our minds about why Javert jumps.

But the musical is weakened by the limits of dialogue.  So the actor must help us understand what Javert is feeling by showing us how distraught he is.  Crowe didn't do this very well.

The scene was beautifully filmed but he kinda killed it for me.  I wanted to reach into the screen and shake him by the shoulders, "You're about to commit suicide!  Emote, for the love of Hugo!"

The 'Suicide' scene is really important because it brings 'Valjean's Soliloquy' full circle from the beginning.  Both of these men experience HUGE turning points where they can either accept or reject the grace that has been given them.  And both of these turning points are sung to the exact same melody.  This is significant because Valjean and Javert are based off of the same man, a convict-turned-policeman named Eugene Francis Vidocq whom Hugo split brilliantly into two personages.

Valjean and Javert are opposite sides of the same coin.

I enjoyed Crowe's performance and I think he totally owned the role, but I wish someone else had been cast.

But here end my complaints.  Everything else about the film was excellent.

Praise #1
I loved how they drew and added from the novel.  As a result, the film is even more true to the original story than the theatrical production.

Take, for instance, the inclusion of Marius's grandfather.  Or the additional scenes between Javert and Valjean.

Some of the dialogue is taken directly from the novel as well, and most of it is used during the barricade scene.  For instance, when the genarme shouts, "Who's there?"  And Enjolras replies, "French Revolution!"

But I think my favorite addition would have to be the scene where Valjean and young Cosette escape into Paris via the rooftops, Javert hot on their heels.

They seek refuge in a convent and are aided by the gardener, who happens to be the man Valjean saved from a runaway cart, Fauchelevent.  It's a connection made in the book, but rarely made in any film or stage adaptation.

Praise #2
A lot of the songs have been abbreviated and rearranged for the film.  Normally this would have me up in arms but they did it in a way that gave us just enough of each song, and I'm pretty sure only freaks like me noticed it anyway.

'I Dreamed a Dream' for instance, takes place after Fantine's descent into prostitution.  I think this is much more appropriate since the staged production normally has her sing it before her life has fallen apart.

Also, the orchestration for each song was refreshing and beautiful.  I hardly recognized 'Stars' until Crowe started singing, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Praise #3
Ann Hathaway.  Holy crap.  Her death rattle alone deserves an Oscar.

Her voice was a little harder to rate since the majority of the time it's choked by emotion, but when she appears to Valjean in the epilogue it's clear as crystal.

Praise #4
Colm Wilkinson.  The original Jean Valjean, no one else could have been more appropriate to portray the Bishop.

If anyone could have blown their vocal role out of the water, it was him.  But instead he chose to go for a more sincere, real performance, and I've never liked the Bishop more.  I wanted to hug him.

Praise #5
I love how they excluded Eponine from Valjean's death.  I always thought she was out of place because Valjean had no significant connection to her.  Instead, they had the Bishop reappear and lead Valjean to his reward.  It was much more appropriate and far more moving.

Praise #6
Speaking of appropriate and moving, I really appreciated the moment when Javert placed his badge of honor on Gavroche's body.  It was unexpected because that moment in the score is usually used to reveal Enjolras's body hanging from the barricade.  It showed that Javert was an honorable man and gave us a glimpse of the humanity in him.  I'll be honest, it made me cry.

Praise #7
I actually cared about Cosette and Marius for once!  Their love scene was filmed beautifully, there were even effing butterflies flying around.

It was almost ridiculous but amongst all the dark material it was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Praise #8
The film benefits from being able to depict things the stage never could.  Take, for instance, the fight scenes.

The carnage of the barricade is never fully realized on the stage, it's not really possible.  But the amount of blood shed on screen is so much that Javert actually has to walk through puddles of it in order to get inside the cafe where the bodies are being kept.

Another good example is Javert's suicide.  Ouch.  The whole audience either hissed or went, "Ooo!" When his body hit the water.  On the stage he just kind of fades into darkness and we assume he drowns.  In the film, however, there's no doubt he died almost instantly.

I'm not saying I liked seeing all this violence, but I am saying that the story has done nothing but prosper from the medium of film.  Props to Tom Hooper, because it could have easily gone the other way. (Like Phantom of the Opera.)

Praise #9
There were so many good voices and actors I can't even--I can't even---augh!  They were amazing.  Case in point, Eddie Redmayne in 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'.

 I hope Nick Jonas was watching.  The way these songs were filmed, with live singing, gave the performances a raw and real feeling as if they were being sung live in front of you.

Overall, I absolutely loved the film and I encourage everyone to experience it at least once on the big screen.  I was so moved I've never cried that much during a movie before, and I've certainly never cried that much while seeing it live on stage.  I had experienced this musical in so many different ways it seemed hard to imagine seeing it in a new way.  But the film adaptation was a whole new experience from the 10th anniversary concert, the 25th anniversary concert, my high school's production, the original stage production, and the 25th anniversary tour.  It was like experiencing the story for the first time.

Bravo, Hollywood.  I was wrong to doubt you.


  1. This is my favorite of your reviews so far. I was sad when it ended. You need to write more often.

  2. The last time I tried to comment it didn't work. So I will try again. I loved your review of Les Mis and it makes me want to see it again and again! Thanks Kimmy and bravo to you!