Bit of a late review this one...
After all, this gritty movie version of Les Mis is now a full-blown Oscar-winning blockbuster!
Which is pretty cool considering it isn't a tongue-in-cheek crowd-pleaser like Chicago and actually tried something different with the musical genre rather than settle for a generic template. Something which Nine soon learned just is not always the way to go. Not that Les Miserables isn't an Oscar-friendly flick, it totally is, it's simply that it manages to be that and more.
Having never physically been to see the musical prior to seeing the film and having never read Victor Hugo's novel (I know, being French it's especially shameful of me), I wasn't 100% sure about what to expect. I'd heard most of the songs from the show, though, so I wasn't completely oblivious as to what Les Miserables was about. Recorded singing directly on camera, sometimes in long one-shot scenes, the cast sure had their work cut out. Hugh Jackman is this film's Jean Valjean, the prisoner-turned-thief-turned-mayor-turned-fugitive, and proves to be a perfect choice for the role: vocally he gives it his all and performance-wise he channels just the right amount of strength and vulnerability. His voice might not have flown quite high enough to work on the stage but on film, it's spot-on. His arch-nemesis, Javert, is played by Russell Crowe who has been panned left and right for not being up to scratch both vocally and as the character. Personally, I have very little problem with Crowe in this movie and that's coming from a guy who finds him bland in almost everything, walked out of A Good Year and is still somewhat angry about him winning Best Actor for Gladiator. His "rockier" approach to the singing is reminiscent of Johnny Depp's take on Sweeney Todd: it's not big and showy but it works for that character. I also find Crowe much more believable as a villain generally anyway.
The rest of the cast is more hit than miss with Anne Hathaway, of course, making the most out of a relatively small role and stealing the show early on with a respectable one-shot rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream", reclaiming the song from Susan Boyle FINALLY. The Sweeney Todd double-act of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter is much less convincing and although the latter is always reliable, it's much too close of a role to Miss Lovett to feel any different and Sacha Baron Cohen's accent changes every minute he's on-screen. They're entertaining but feel a little forced, like they belong in a different movie altogether. The other character I didn't really warm up to was Samantha Barks' Eponine, mostly because of that love triangle which comes in way too late to really care about and the fact that her character mostly whines about a dude who's not very interesting to begin with. The novelty of the one-shot song by that point also feels a tad worn out so it's not so much Barks' fault as it is the way her subplot is handled. Otherwise, Mamma Mia-graduate Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne make a fine Cosette and Marius, both giving impressive vocal performances.
The film opens on prisoners pulling a boat in with giant ropes and it's about as epic of an overture as it gets, "Look Down" is as rough as it's ever been and the movie already looks promising. All the way until Valjean goes on the run, the film is pretty darn close to being perfect. After that, the plot introduces the revolutionary aspect of the plot and it's like you're watching a very different, but still very good movie. For me, those two plot strands never quite fully gel as the film moves at a fast pace and the transition is somewhat sudden. Maybe had the movie been 4 hours long, Hugo's novel could have received a fuller, more complete treatment but as it stands: this is a terrific movie adaptation of the stage musical. The songs are as catchy and addictive as ever, the grittier look the film has feels completely appropriate, the aforementioned cast is altogether brilliant and the film has a lot of heart and goes down the earnest route rather than the 80's rock opera path a fool like me would have probably taken! That's probably why I like Crowe in that movie: his rocky tones give me a small glimpse into the METAL Les Mis that could have been lol
Les Miserables, overall, is a success: it nails the more emotional moments of the story with several heartbreaking moments, it's completely entertaining throughout and pretty innovative in terms of the movie musical genre. If you're a fan, chances are you'll love it, otherwise, if musicals aren't really your thing, you'll be able to enjoy it as a good movie if nothing else. It's not perfect, its scale doesn't quite build up to the size the opening scene promised and it repeats some of its more interesting, arty visual moves but for musicals, it's essentially a concept movie and concept movies are usually little more than experiments. This not only an experiment that worked but also a great movie.