In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.
The film industry is no stranger to musical adaptations, and for the most part they have been well received. But the new age of technology has allowed something completely new in the production of 2012’s Les Miserables, and that is the method of live recording that they did. The cast were given earpieces that played the sound of a live accompanying piano that would play to their pacing and timing of the cast. That means that the performers were free to take the song in any direction that they felt, to really allow them to focus on their acting instead of lip-syncing, and the piano accompany was just to keep the singers on key. I haven’t been to any sort of Broadway musical production, but these methods led to the most passionate and emotional singing performances I have ever seen in film. It was simply incredible. Director Tom Cooper also used a simple and awesome idea to compliment the emphasis on the singers’ freedom to perform with a simple steadicam close up and long, single takes of solos. It was done just perfectly.
Although I haven’t had the privilege to see a Broadway show, it is clear to see how similar the production of this film was to that of a stage production. Producer Cameron Mackintosh also produced the original stage musical in England, and nearly everyone in the cast and crew had some relation or previous work in some version of a stage production of Les Miserables or other Broadway work. Anne Hathaway‘s mother played Fantine in the first U.S. tour; Hugh Jackman is a seasoned musical performer; Samantha Barks and Alistair Brammer both reprise their roles from the 25th anniversary production; Eddie Redmayne‘s family has been attending and listening to the soundtrack of Les Miserables his entire life; Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen co-starred in another musical: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This really is a stellar cast created after a long and expansive process of eliminating tons of A-list actors from the leading roles.
I think two of the most emotional and powerful couple of minutes I can remember in film were Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream and Eddie Redmayne’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. The full effect of the method of shooting, directing, singing, and acting is shown here, scenes that are so real and scary and sad that they could be award nomination worthy for the couple minute songs themselves.
The actual movie was a bit of a drag. Although clearly not meant to be exciting and thrilling, there were still way too many times I found myself checking my watch or even nodding off. I think that if you have a real interest and passion for music, then this is probably a perfect movie. The music fan in me was blown away by the performances and direction. But if you aren’t really into all of that stuff, then this is going to be a slow-moving, unsatisfying film. And that is fine. No movie is made to please every person on the planet. This film just has a little bit too narrow of a scope, however, for it to be truly great.
3/4 – A wonder of musical performances, innovation, and theater-like production, Les Miserables is a masterpiece for musical lovers, but a little too narrow of a scope and too slow a pace for the average movie-goer.