The blockbusters of the Christmas movie season were “Django Unchained” and “Les Miserables.” Both now are Oscar contenders for best picture.
Did “Les Mis” live up to the hype?
Well, the first time I saw a stage production of “Les Mis” at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, I’m not ashamed to say I wept. I’ve also sung along to the soundtrack about a million times. Suffice it to say, I’m familiar with the material.
My excitement over the new film has been building since I first heard Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of “The King’s Speech,” would tackle it. Probably my biggest hope for the film was that it would make the story more accessible. I knew people who might never go see a stage show would be more likely to try the film in theaters with popcorn handy. Well, “Les Mis” opened at No. 1 late last year, so that was one achievement.
In case you are new to the material, this is a story of redemption. It follows Jean (best-actor nominee Hugh Jackman), who got a second chance and dedicated his life to giving the same to others. Never mind the vicious nemesis Javert (Russell Crowe) always at his heels or the revolution burning all around him.
Let’s list the things the film got right.
Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine is perfect. She’s raw and emotional when she should be and sings beautifully when she should sing beautifully. It’s the perfect balance. I’m almost positive she’ll win the Oscar for best supporting actress, and I’m thrilled because the lady played Catwoman and Fantine in the same year. Bravo.
The biggest surprise of the film for me was Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Marius; he kills it. Samantha Barks as Eponine, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Sasha Baron Cohen as the “master of the house” all were wonderful. The sets were … interesting. For the most part they are realistic, but several have an element of whimsy — like fake butterflies in a romantic scene and disproportionate buildings at the barricade — that I’m not sure yet if I liked.
But here’s where the film definitely went wrong: Crowe. I wanted to give the guy a break after all the negative press he’s received, but I just can’t. He looks great in “Les Mis.” If I were designing the perfect Javert, Crowe is what he’d look like. His singing, however, was almost laughable. And maybe it was just me, but I didn’t see a lot of acting from him. If he was going for quiet, inner turmoil, OK, I saw some of that. However, there were parts that needed to be epic, but they just weren’t.
In the end, that’s my opinion of the whole film. It needed to be epic, and it came up short. I’m a fan — but just barely.