Les merveilleux!

“So long as the three great problems of the century—the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light—are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use” – Hauteville House, 1862

My wife and I finally broke our no-movie-streak. The last time we saw a movie in the theater (not counting two documentaries at an independent theater) was before our twins were born, over four years ago. With family watching the kids, we went with my sister and brother-in-law to see Les Misérables. I’ve been a Les Mis fan since grade school when I used to listen to the soundtrack every night as I went to sleep. I’d seen a production in Indianapolis as well as on Broadway in NYC. Heck, in show choir, I sang many of the songs as solos for class.

I thought the movie was excellent in a variety of ways. First off, as advertised, allowing the actors to sing the songs as they feel right (instead of recording their audio on a soundstage and then lip-syncing to it on film), really allowed for great acting.

As many of the reviews have already said, the singing was impressive. Hugh Jackman could go toe-to-toe with almost any other voice of Jean Valjean. Anne Hathaway was also quite impressive as Fantine. I was not surprised to learn that Samantha Barks, who played Eponine, got the role because she was Eponine in the 25th Anniversary of Les Mis. She was amazing and I expect this will be a break out roll for her in Hollywood.

While Russell Crowe acted an amazing Javert, exposing a conflicted and internally tormented and unsure man, his singing was subpar. I should say that compared to the average singer, he has a great voice, but this is the Superbowl of singing as far as I’m concerned and his voice just wasn’t up to the task. If this was a George Lucas film, the re-release would include a better singer’s voice dubbed over Russell’s. Russell still deserves a good deal of credit for the way he portrayed Javert. I especially enjoyed how he handled Stars, on top of the roof, when combined with the mirror scene of his suicide.

I heard negative reviews about the very tenor voice of Marius, saying that he came across as not manly enough and thus hard to support. I was definitely feeling the same until he sang Empty Chairs, where upon it became apparent to me that the man can sing a beautiful baritone. Perhaps, instead, this was a conscious decision to show Marius as the young boy he was, becoming more of a man through the death of his friends.

All and all, an engaging story comes to live on the big screen like never before. I was somewhat disappointed to not hear the full score (no Turning or Dog eats Dog, and others were simply truncated), but at a running time of 160 mins, I understand some cuts were necessary. Even still, my fellow movie-goers and I were crying through most of the movie, either because of the plot, or just the joy of seeing our favorite musical in its best form to date.