First off let me start by saying that I am a massive fan of Les Mis. I have seen the stage show performed three times and I have listened to the original stage recordings multiple times. I’ve seen the show once in Melbourne, once is London and once as a high school musical. Now here comes the shock, I enjoyed the film less that all three of these performances, even the high school musical.
Why did I find the film so extremely underwhelming, well I would say it’s mostly because of a major stylistic choice that I think sets the film up for failure. Director Tom Hooper who also directed ‘The Kings Speech’, decided that he wanted the film to be as much like the stage musical as possible. He wanted the film to sound real and raw so he recorded the vocals live rather than recording the vocals in a studio. The the visuals also reflect a stylistic choice to look more like a musical that historic reality. This is obvious in scenes at the barricades, where I swear, there was a bigger stage barricade in the high school musical version I saw.
What is the point of turning a stage musical into a film, if you try to make the film as much like a stage musical as possible. Isn’t the whole purpose of a film version that it can exist on a much bigger scale than anything that was imagined on a stage. This means the visuals can be realistic and spectacular and sound can a achieve a beauty and perfection that live performances just can’t achieve. But instead of realizing this film as a film, they realize it as stage musical with a few more effects and untrained performers.
I mean if you want that raw live sound why not use real honest to goodness singers, not Hollywood actors. Hire people that can really do justice to that live recording rather than people who are only going to seem more flawed. Anne Hathaway is a perfect example of this, I perhaps may have enjoyed her singing if she had of been sweetened in a studio, instead all I could hear was her out of tune warbling. The fact that she had never done anything like this in her life was super obvious, and her whispering of half words in the name of emotion only made it more so. While some critics say she is the best thing about this musical and that her emotional interpretation is outstanding, I couldn’t help but feel it was ridiculous. In fact all I could think about was how in love with herself Hathaway must be. I felt her ego more than I felt anything about Fantine. She is the worst thing in this production.
Hugh Jackman is rather better but still suffers from a case of whispering emotional words. He has said that he felt that the live recording direction of the film really helped his performance and added to the music’s sense of emotion. But again I would state that ego may have gotten in the way here and that the music suffers for very little emotional reward.
The most impressive performance of all the cast was in fact Russell Crowe, as his singing was by far the most like the stage musical. He didn’t whisper any words, strained with emotion and his voice was clear and beautiful. As such I engaged with his character most of all and felt his death was the emotional high point of the film. Given my love for the musical, I am aware that it really isn’t supposed to be the emotional climax.
Other honorable mentions include Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Sasha Baron Cohen as the innkeeper, both of these actors held their own in their performances and were musically outstanding.
Beyond the performances and visuals and the music, the film in total just seems a little flat and unengaging. I didn’t feel the emotional journey and I got a sense of going through the motions. I spent most the film wishing it was better, wanting it be, trying to cry but feeling nothing. What a disappointment.