Les Misérables ★★★★½

I should start by noting that I am the target audience for this movie. I was obsessed with the musical when I was a teenager. The first CD I ever bought was the Broadway cast recording (in fact, I bought it before I had a CD player as a way to try to inspire myself to save up enough money to buy one); I had a Les Mis t-shirt that I wore until it was pretty much threadbare; I saw the play on stage three times; and I almost cried when I saw the first trailer for this film on the big screen.

Now that I've got that out of the way ... I loved this movie. Loved. I went to see it on my birthday, and then saw it again the next night because I adored it so much.

Having said that, I do think there are problems with it. It starts to drag towards the end after all the revolutionaries die. The shifts between scenes/songs can be abrupt, and they've shortened some of the songs, for obvious and completely understandable reasons -- a movie can only be so long -- but this adds to the abruptness of the thing. Some of the actual plot is a bit muddled, again due to the quick pace. As a fan of the musical I totally get why the filmmakers wanted to avoid cutting songs and I'm glad they did, but I also think this makes the film come off almost as more of a series of music videos than a coherent narrative.

But what grand music videos they are! A few standout performances:

- Anne Hathaway kills "I Dreamed a Dream." It is such a very sad song and her performance is devastating. The film producers changed the order of things a bit, putting "I Dreamed a Dream" after "Lovely Ladies" instead of before it, which I think works really well: the horror of Fantine's situation is brought home. If Hathaway wins the Supporting Actress Oscar this year, she will deserve it.
- The best part of Hugh Jackman's performance comes in the prologue, particularly his anguished take on "What Have I Done?" which I loved. When he sings "Another story must begin!" and then the overture kicks in, it is a fantastic, spine-tingling moment.
- "Look Down." Daniel Huddlestone, the kid who plays Gavroche, is perfection.
- I was really impressed with Eddie Redmayne as Marius. The wide-eyed look that worked so well in My Week with Marilyn also suits Marius, and Redmayne has quite a strong and Marius-appropriate singing voice. His rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is incredibly moving.
- Basically all of the group songs, in particular "One Day More" (I almost jumped out of my seat and started clapping after that one) and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" Even a bad performance of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" is fairly rousing, and this is an excellent performance. I struggled not to sing along. The finale version of the song is also absolutely brilliant. Such a massive, stirring ending.

There is no one in the cast who does badly. There are moments here and there that could be better, but overall they all perform well. Amanda Seyfried's pretty, trilly voice is just right for Cosette. Aaron Tveit is an admirable Enjolras ... I just wish I hadn't seen him on Gossip Girl. :) Russell Crowe doesn't have quite the singing voice I expect for Javert, but his intense persona makes him exactly the right actor for the role. He seems to be taking a lot of flack for his singing, but I thought he was quite good. To be fair, I am a big Russell Crowe fan. The one person whose singing truly is not up to scratch is Helena Bonham Carter, but it doesn't matter that much for her role. Still, I found the Thenardiers fell a bit flat. I also felt that the film version didn't do a great job of integrating Eponine into the story. Movie Eponine, though played well by Samantha Barks, seems to be a very peripheral character rather than the important figure I always thought she was when I was a teenager and she was my favourite part of the play. Maybe it's me who's changed, not her.

Tom Hooper's direction is about the same as it was in The King's Speech, really, which is to say kind of average. Some very pretty shots but I don't find his style terribly interesting. For some of the more introspective songs ("I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own," "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables") he stays quite close on the actor's face. I liked this technique a lot for "I Dreamed a Dream" because it forces the viewer to focus on nothing but Hathaway's intense emotion. It made me think of Sinead O'Connor's video for "Nothing Compares 2 U." (Or maybe it was Anne Hathaway's lack of hair that brought that to mind.)

Ultimately, the greatness of the film comes mostly from the fact that Les Miserables the musical is probably one of the greatest stage musicals ever written. Almost every single song is absolutely outstanding, and this film version sees the songs performed by an excellent cast. That's kind of all I wanted from it and it delivered big time. I hope to see it again soon.