As much as I love musicals, I truthfully have had little exposure to those productions restricted to the stage, and until Les Miserables was adapted to film, I had never heard its music, aside from “I Dreamed a Dream.” I was definitely missing out. The fantastic music alone is enough to make Les Mis list-worthy, but director Tom Hooper’s dramatization has all the artistry and exceptional acting to make it one of the greatest musicals ever.
I’m a bit puzzled that Les Miserables received mixed reviews upon release, with some viewers lauding its production values and acting while others could only complain. Staunch fans of the stage musical claimed the actors’ voices couldn’t compare to the great singers of past productions, and some cynical critics decried its melodrama and the gimmick of having the actors sing live, as opposed to relying on the usual pre-recorded tracks. One reviewer grumbled about a first half of actors who can’t sing and a second half of singers who can’t act. Open your eyes, people! Are a few flat notes really enough to overshadow such a powerful story of forgiveness, love, and triumph?
When my family and I saw Les Mis on Christmas Day, we had nothing to compare it to. Having since taken an interest in the music and having watched the 25th Anniversary Concert with Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, I will admit that some of the voices are not up to the high standard set by the stage. Yet Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe still excel with Oscar-worthy performances, and even if they’re straining during “Bring Him Home” or “Stars,” they both are entirely pleasant to the ear. Amanda Seyfried certainly hits the high notes for Cosette, and Eddie Redmayne is perfect in voice and emotion for the role of torn lover/revolutionary Marius. Samantha Barks had played Eponine in the 25th Anniversary Concert, and her performance here is just as excellent. Anne Hathaway earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her brief but incredibly moving role as Fantine, and though she was the target of some inexplicable hate, I think anyone who watches her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” again will remember why she deserved that Oscar.
As for the songs and lyrics, there’s not much I can say other than they are awe-inspiring. “At the End of the Day,” “Who Am I?,” “Red and Black,” “On My Own,” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” are exquisite beyond words, and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” ends the film on an unparalleled note of magnificence. Even the Oscar-nominated new song for the film “Suddenly” fits in beautifully, fleshing out Valjean’s early relationship with Cosette in a way to which all parents can relate. My main complaint for the soundtrack and the film in general is the Thenardiers and their tavern showstopper “Master of the House,” which is unnecessarily profane in an otherwise devout story. As comic relief, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter do well, but I feel their characters’ presence is sadly degrading to the film for the most part. Yet even they play a role in creating my favorite song of the film “One Day More,” the culmination of all prior melodies. Every character takes part in making it truly glorious, one of the high points of musical cinema, period.
The story of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables was excellent enough to already earn placement on my list in the form of the 1998 non-musical version with Liam Neeson, and the music is grand, sumptuous, and classic. Putting them together with some talented actors at their best created, in my opinion, the best film of 2012. Oh, that more musicals would reach the screen so majestically!
Best line: (the Bishop, played by Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean) “But remember this, my brother, see in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood, God has raised you out of darkness; I have bought your soul for God!”Rank: 59 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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