Oh what an emotional treat this movie was. You could feel the happiness of the victorious fighters during the French Revolution. You felt the sadness for the fighters that straggled behind. You experienced life and death, all sung through song (only a handful of lines are actually spoken), and the music that carries the movie soars above everyone as they anchor it down through their acting. Two of the biggest surprises were Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, and for different reasons. Jackman is known for being a talented Broadway actor, so it only seemed natural for him to star in a musical. However musical movies are not Broadway productions, and the nice thing is that Jackman realizes this. He caters to the movie audience, the audience that pays attention to small intricacies and to personal reflection; not the theatre audience that look for how one takes advantage of the stage and the auditorium. Jackman makes Jean Valjean a believable force on screen, although he seems to command both the very start and the very end of the movie. He is still quite moving in the middle of the movie, but his suffering as an ill prisoner is very hard to shake out of your mind, and thus the middle section acts as Valjean running away from his past.
Hathaway, of whom has been bombarded with hatred and mockery for years now, is the real focal point of this film, though. All those years of the second Princes Diaries, her Oscar gig with James Franco, her accent in One Day, and even her recent nudity slip; gone. She never uses her real life pain to channel through to her performance of Fantine, either. No. This pain and anguish comes from somewhere else, somewhere otherworldly. It’s a rarity to see on screen, and it’s a shame that she seems to come and go because her suffering (and Jackman’s, too) are the highlights of the movie. You never quite feel the effects of the struggling French nation like you do with these two characters. You figured you’d feel the authority of France through Russel Crowe, but sadly that is not the case, as another emotion you will feel during this movie (in a few ways, not just with this character) is annoyance. His character feels like it was glued onto the reel and dubbed over the soundtrack. He feels like a non-diegetic cameo, almost. He is good at what he does, but in a completely different movie. When everyone else rumbles through their singing, Crowe instead cheers, and it is very unlike any of the other performances. It really is not his fault, either. I feel that there were some silly directing decisions, and this was one of them.
Another case of bad directing meeting honest performances is with the comedic pair of Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter, who are hilarious and captivating. Now, the direction at fault here isn’t that of the director in this case, but rather that of the script, oddly enough. These characters had no saving graces. We laughed at them, sure, but we still disliked them as people. Every time they are on screen, you just know that someone will have to put up with their nuisances. They are just bad morally. That’s it. With the crimes committed by others, you can feel them second guessing and you can sense that they are only doing this to survive. Now, sure these two characters may have been that way before until they became comfortable with just being conniving and sly, but showing that transition would be lovely. Oh, speaking of transitions, there aren’t any visually.
The editing is beyond sloppy. It’s beyond choppy. It’s a categorical nightmare at times, even. The cinematography is actually stunning and brilliant, and I’ll be damned to call it some of the best of the year. I had my reason for not mentioning this earlier, though. It’s because you can barely enjoy it most of the time. Honestly, some of the best shots in the movie clock in under a second (or even half a second). This goes for almost every scene, and it’s a shame because this movie could have been ten times better with a chance to breathe, relax, and take in what we’re seeing. There are even moments where I had to actually think back as to what I just saw just to understand the purpose of that scene. I had to question what main characters were doing, and how we got from point a to point b. In a musical, where the music carries plot (especially this movie, where the majority of it is sung), you can’t have people trying to backtrack what is happening. You need to keep going forward and you need people to be along side you. When people are busy reflecting on the past or wondering what just happened, you lose your matching paces.
What helps, and is eventually the saving grace of this movie, is the music that ties everything together like a tapestry. Every scene feels like its own music video, so watching this film as a cohesive narrative may not benefit you so much. Watching this film as a visual, moving soundtrack is where you will get the most out of this movie. Watching the performances for what they convey and not necessarily how the story benefits from them will suffice, and it’s not as if the original story is weak. It is a classic work of literature. Will this movie be remembered as a classic? Sadly, it could have been. For now, it’s just a pretty good movie with some excellent qualities and some forgettable aspects and lastly some hindering moments. It is far from perfect but it is carried along by passion and by love; there is love for acting, for music and singing, for art and for Les Misérables. Many may love this movie, but I didn’t. Did I love the soundtrack? Undeniably. Did I love some of the performances? Without a doubt. The movie experimented a lot, and you can never shut down those who try something different even when they occasionally fall flat.