By B. Noel Barr, Contributing Writer
Les Miserables, the new musical film about the Victor Hugo’s classic, is a story of Hollywood, theater and the common man.
This has to be the greatest musical to date put to film. The acting, particularly that of Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway is stellar in so many ways. The mental and physical investment of these two actors is beyond reproach. Russell Crowe as the nemesis Javert, in this tale is stoic reserved and very subtly filled with rage. The supporting actors Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter played to the film, not to the musical.
This is the blessing and the curse of the entire project. On one hand, we have a film that stands to be one the most innovative of its kind made to date. On the other, the producers missed the boat completely. You see this musical theater hit is played to a live audience and invites the people onto the stage of 19th century Paris. Les Mesrables is operatic in nature. This is a production of full voiced singing, not the nuanced styles of pop singing.
The medium of film in and of itself is intimate and does not call for the characters to be as over the top in film as they would be on stage.
There lies the problem.
Jackman, who has had musical theater experience but does not have the vocal chops of everyone else, played the part of Jean ValJean and saves himself through his acting. Though his singing comes out of his acting, the emotions there carry the day in the end.
Anne Hathaway, who is a trained Soprano and theater actor, is the best of this star powered cast. She delivers a riveting performance, which should garner her an Academy Award nomination.
Then there is Russell Crowe, acting-wise he plays the part as he should. Here he plays to the film, instead of the musical. Nevertheless, he cannot sing his part, which is normally played by a baritone. He sings like a second level Aussie rocker, which is what he is. Thankfully, he is a much better actor and in his final scenes, the rage and emotion come out.
For years I have listened to Les Miserables. I cannot get through the first few minutes without weeping. I questioned whether I could physically stand seeing this in the movies. I did and I loved it. It was this marvelous story come to life. The grit and the reality of Paris in the 19th century transport’s you in this film. The opening scene, which is shown in trailers, is breathtaking. The pain and agony of Jean Valjean, Fantine and the wasted youth offering themselves up for a higher cause speaks volumes.
The score and the supporting singers are beyond reproach. The addition of the original Valjean, Colm Wlikinson, playing the Priest who changes our hero’s fate, adds tons of credibility to the piece.
In the end, this is the story of a common man. It is the willingness of this Jean Valjean to rise and meet his destiny with all the tragic twists and turns of great literature.
Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, I think, might have made Victor Hugo proud. By not having the best singers in the world perform, he may have made a movie for everybody. If you have seen the musical on stage or have listened to it all quite frequently for over 20 years, as I have, then there may be some disappointment.
This musical was something that was an intimate part of my life with my children. It was through Les Miz that I taught my children of music theater and a bit of myself to them. We have loved this music and story for many years. All of my children have seen this now and they have their opinions as well. As a family, we discussed this work. The movie stands alone. It is an equal to West Side Story, to a lesser extinct Oliver. The only difference is the singing; but these others do not deliver the scope of a tale like this, which is spread over 50 years in this one part of Hugo’s masterwork.
This also maybe the case of selling Hollywood star power, over the art of this great piece of music theater. Go see it and make up your own mind, I loved it despite its failings.