January 3, 2013

Dreaming The Dream

As a fan of live theatre, movie musicals usually come short of my expectations when I go see it in the cinema.  So as soon as the trailer of the Les Miserables movie first came out, I was immediately concerned that Anne Hathaway's performance was vocally not strong enough for Fantine.  I made sure that I avoided seeing other trailers, featurettes or even interviews of the actors so as not to heighten my expectations for the movie.  I guess it worked because I did enjoy Tom Hooper's film and I admit that being a long time fan of the musical, I was a soppy mess watching the movie. 

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Mis is about the life of the hero Jean Valjean as he tries to rebuild it after being released from prison.  Imprissoned for 19 years for stealing bread, he tries to lead an honest life after being shown kindness by a bishop.  He breaks his parole and assumes a different identity and becomes the Mayor and wealthy factory owner.  He is tracked for decades by a policeman, Javert who is obsessed with finally catching him.  Valjean soon promises his dying factory worker, Fantine that he will care for her child, Cossette.  With this promise, both their lives are changed forever.

As Valjean, Hugh Jackman was impressive as he embodied the character.  I did enjoy his performance and thought he sang the score well.....until.....Bring Him Home.  Now while he had a good voice throughout the movie, he just couldn't reach those lofty high notes that Colm Wilkinson or Alfie Boe does so well so that the song didn't have the same effect on me at it usually does at the end of the film.  Like there was something missing. 

Anne Hathaway was equally as impressive as Fantine.  Her I Dreamed a Dream was heartbreaking.  The real revelation for me however was Eddie Redmayne who played Marius.  He has a beautiful tenor voice that was such a surprise.  The beauty of his voice matched the natural intensity of his acting so much so that when he gets to sing Empty Chairs and Empty Tables, you are as despondent as he is.  Another favorite in the film was Eponine played by Samantha Barks.  I remember being so pleased when I heard that she was cast for the role instead of getting a big named star.  She was incredibly moving when she sang On My Own in the rain.  What a lovely voice.  Again an example that the singing shouldn't be sacrificed and covered up by acting the part.  She did both of them equally as effective.  A Little Fall of Rain still haunts me!  Broadway's Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) was another one who I appreciated.  Great singing and depth as with Daniel Huttlestone who played Gavroche (he also played it in the West End).  As the Thenardiers, Sacha Baaron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were equally amusing and entertaining.

The film is an interesting experiment of mixing the emotionality/theatricality of the musical with the realism of cinema.  As an audience member, one feels the "epicness" of the peice with the cinematography and grandiose views of Paris mid-1800's.  It was also great to see the grittiness of the slums of Paris during Fantine's scenes. 

There has been much talk about the actors actually singing during the filming instead of lip syncing which has been the case for previous movie musicals.  In this case, the emotionality of the songs translated really well on screen.  During these scenes, actors were filmed in close-up and there were  A LOT of them.  As a fan of the musical, I was ok with watching just the actors emote while singing but others might not take to that as well (as seen from reviews complaining of the close-up scenes).  The down side of this is, in Russell Crowe's case,  you can see up close how much effort he puts into singing Stars as Javert only to come short.  He was a distraction and a disappointment for me.  He acted his part well but the singing (he had more of a rock/rawness to his voice instead of a big booming baritone) never matched up to it so that one never fully feels the extent of  Javert's lament as he commits suicide. 

If you're a theatre geek, I'm sure you've spotted Colm Wilkinson (the original Jean Valjean) playing the Bishop of Digne and Frances Ruffelle (original Eponine) playing one of the whores.  I think I also spotted Hadley Fraser (who played Grantaire in the 25th Anniversary Concert) as the General of the National Guard.  I'm glad Tom Hooper decided to pay homage to these actors who brought these parts to life on stage. 

At the end of the day, the beauty of Les Mis lies in the complex story by Hugo, the sweeping music of Claude-Michel Schonberg and haunting lyrics of Allain Boublil.  I gjuess no matter what kind of medium it is presented, it never fails to move me!

(photo from IMDB.com)


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