Taylor Weik: I’m usually an optimistic person, but I must confess that I was hesitant to watch this Tom Hooper blockbuster. I’d read the book by Victor Hugo (all 1,488 pages), I’d seen the musical and I was convinced that Hollywood was out to ruin one of the greatest novels of all time with weak singers and a poorly constructed plotline. Yet just 30 minutes into the film as I watched Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream,” I couldn’t help but agree that I too, dreamed a dream. But unlike Fantine, my dream came true: “Les Misérables” was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Colleen Bromberger: Yes, I agree. I had absolutely no expectations for this movie. I cringed when I heard the musical was being made into a film. I was prepared to bet my entire theatrical background on the fact that “Les Misérables” was going to be the worst film of the year. However, I have never been more wrong about a movie in my entire life. “Les Misérables” was truly the most amazing musical-turned-movie made within the last decade, next only to “Chicago.”
TW: The historical musical takes place between 1815 and 1832, the years following the bloody French Revolution that left France in a state of disarray. Anyone watching the movie who knows nothing of the original plot can catch on quickly, as the film does an excellent job recreating the dirty streets of Paris where the poor — clothed in rags and with dirt smothered on their faces — distinctly outnumber the rich. The careful attention to details, such as costumes and location, deserve applause, yet it is ultimately the actors (some of whom have no previous experience in singing) that make the musical what it is.
CB: The visuals were stunning. However, considering the high demand for quality singers, I was worried before I saw the film, since I was completely unsure of how actors such as Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried and Anne Hathaway would be able to hold their ground with such an intense requirement for musicality.
TW: I certainly had no qualms about Hugh Jackman. In the midst of stirring rebellion, we follow ex-convict Jean Valjean as he struggles with his dark past and seeks redemption to erase it. No one can say that Jackman was chosen to play Valjean purely because of his acting credentials. Nominated for Golden Globe’s Best Performance by an Actor In a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical category, Jackman proves that he can deliver not just lines, but lyrics. He may be able to cry on command, but his vocals evoke the same tortured, tired emotions, especially apparent when he decides to turn away from a life of crime in “Valjean’s Soliloquy.” One line from Jackman, and you’d assume he was trained professionally since birth as a singer, not an actor.
CB: The true standout performance, however, was that of Anne Hathaway. I have never been her biggest fan, but after this film, I have an incredible amount of respect for her. During her solo “I Dreamed a Dream,” she effectively portrayed the pain and sorrow her life had amounted to, while also managing to sing extremely well as a non-singer. Although her part is relatively brief, she brought tears to my eyes in the few minutes she appeared on screen. Unfortunately, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried were, as I somewhat expected, struggling to hit notes that unfortunately were just as painful to watch as to hear. Such parts should have been left to more seasoned singers rather than popular actors who Hollywood knew would keep the theater seats full.
TW: Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne bring their previous stage acting experience to life onscreen as Éponine and Marius respectively. With their equally strong vibratos that enhance the quality and authenticity of the musical, Barks and Redmayne are the two solid singers who make up for the vocal training that several others seem to lack in the film. By the time Barks reaches her solo “On My Own” and pines in the pouring rain for the man who she knows will never love her back (Marius), all is forgotten about Amanda Seyfried, who gives a weak performace as Cosette in her duet with Redmayne’s Marius in “Heart Full Of Love.” Seyfried’s voice is faint and nowhere near an equal match to Redmayne’s rich tone.
CB: I disagree about Barks. I was not that impressed with her portrayal of the pivotal role of Éponine, most popular for the classic ballad “On My Own.” Having already played the part on Broadway, I was expecting much more from her vocal performance; however, I found the much anticipated ballad to be rather flat, and overshadowed by many non-singers, like Hathaway, in the cast. The cinematography as a whole was extraordinary, using close-ups on each of the Misérables as a portal into their soul. In the aforementioned Hathaway solo, the camera work was especially beautiful through its minimal use of one stationed shot through the whole song, showing that the scene was filmed in one take. For people who appreciate theater, as well as for those who appreciate movies, this film is a wonderful hybrid of musical talent and movie excellence.
TW: And though the film was excellent, it had no problem with being terrible at the same time. “Les Misérables” is a story that can literally be translated from the French as “The Miserable” and “The Wretched,” and the exceptional directing and acting of the cast and crew make no Hollywood effort to sugarcoat it.
CB: If hearing two and a half hours of non-stop singing is not your cup of tea, then go see it for the moral, which is best summed up in one of the last lines of the musical, “To love another human, is to see the face of God.” Love, above all else, is the most important attribute humanity can possess. Bravo, “ Les Misérables.” Bravo.