I adore the musical Les Miserables. I have seen it several times since moving to NY to act in 1989, and I memorized the music by listening over and over to the album then tape then cd. So when I heard they were making a movie out of it, I was understandably terrified.
Until I saw it. Because of my status with the Screen Actors Guild, I was invited (along with members of other guilds, some industry people and press) to a viewing of the film a month before it is shown to the public, the day after Thanksgiving. Tom Hooper, the director, was supposed to do a Q&A after, but instead of just him, 4 of the young stars – Anne Hathaway, Samantha Banks, Eddie Redmayne, and Amanda Seyfried – were there also, BECAUSE HE HAD JUST FINISHED THE MOVIE AT 2 A.M. THAT MORNING!! So there they all sat, a row ahead of me and my daughter, seeing it for the first time just as I was!
And what a show it was. Hooper said that he would not have done the movie unless Hugh Jackman was on board, and that was absolutely the right decision. Jackman was a force of nature. In words and in song, he ripped his heart out and handed it to the audience, letting us see Jean Valjean's pain, agony, hatred, anger and finally love and joy. He commanded every frame he was in with the amazing voice I knew he would have from seeing him on Broadway. But because Hooper had decided to film them singing live, instead of the usual studio and lipsyncing, it had even more depth to it. He and the others seemed to be talking right to us with elongated vowels not "oh, look, he is bursting into song in the middle of the barricades". He will be nominated for an Oscar.
The second of the at least three Oscar nods I believe it will garner (the third being the show itself) will go to the phenomenal Anne Hathaway as Fantine. She made you take the horrific journey from respectable woman through selling everything she could, including her teeth and her hair, and then to the final degradation of selling her body. Her "I Dreamed a Dream" was the most powerful and poignant version I have ever heard, and I wept for her pain, loss and suffering.
While most others in the cast also did excellent jobs, especially Banks as Eponine and Redmayne as Marius, I admit to being disappointed in two performances. Seyfried did a serviceable job as Cosette, nothing more. Her voice compared to the others was weak and, although the high notes were clear and pure, had an insane amount of vibrato. And I did not feel for her what I wanted to when her father lay dying.
But the biggest, and most unexpected, disappointment was Russell Crowe. I knew he would not have the best voice, but it was good enough. However, since Hooper said he hired Crowe because he was the best person to go toe to toe with "Wolverine", I did expect his Javert to be powerful in his belief that only he knew what was the law, and his black and white world was the right one to live in. But he played the role, either by his choice or Hooper's, in a very quiet manner, without the intensity necessary to lead up to a tour de force song like "Stars". Jackman had him for lunch in all their scenes together. Because it's hard to believe Javert was really that tied to his belief system, when he commits his final desperate act it's hard to fathom how not living in a world of gray that made a mockery of his whole life was really that big a deal to him.
But since the movie belongs to Jackman, everyone should see it. You will leave drained but exhilerated, wanting to get back in line to buy tickets for another day.