First of all, let me say, I cried four times so I definitely got my money's worth. I can also admit that Les Miserables is my ALL TIME FAVORITE Musical so I knew going in I would have high expectations. I was worried after the first 45 minutes, but then it started rolling and began to gel. I do not think it was the perfect adaptation of the musical by any means and I think the Direction is the biggest culprit in that respect. However, there are moments, individual performances and sections that do nice service to it and rescue it from being a bad movie.
I cannot fault the acting. It's there for all of them. The singing, well, there are disappointments, but again I think the direction is what undercut what could have been so much more. Anne Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream escapes damage because it is done as a one-shot, close up so that it reads like it should - as a monologue told through song. Could she play Fantine on a big stage? Maybe not, but for this film she is terrific. Because the camera is on her face the whole time and she isn't afraid to sing ugly and she really invests in the song the internal story is consistently present. The whole song becomes a journey. Unfortunately for Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, Tom Hooper (Director) did not afford them the same opportunity in their big monologue songs. Instead, he has them moving and shifting as though these are songs of action. They aren't. They are songs of self-discovery and decision and should have been done with that same respect. There are plenty of songs that move the action wherein movement and shifting locales add to the energy. Hooper, however, doesn't always capture that opportunity either. There's only three of the leads that could probably hold their own on a stage singing this score - Jackman, Aaron Tviet (Enjolras) and Samantha Banks (Eponine) - but all the leads are perfectly adaptable to play these roles in a film. To play to their strengths he should have let them be still more often and use those skills.
So, what made me cry? Red and Black - When those wonderful men are singing, led by Tveit (confession - Enjolras is so much more attractive to me than Marius - both vocally and character wise - so those of you who wished Tveit was Marius, I say "No! Enjolras all the way, baby!"). This is the number where it really felt like an ensemble. On My Own - Samantha Banks was a wonderful choice and she really built up to this song. I will say, I Dreamed a Dream was wonderfully done, but I wasn't there yet in terms of investment as an audience member. A Little Fall of Rain - such a wonderfully done moment with commitment from both Banks and Eddie Redmayne (Marius). The stillness worked so beautifully. And then finally, Valjean's Death. I cried from that moment through the end as it shifted into Do You Hear the People Sing - the pay-off came at the end.
I love Helena Bonham Carter but thought the choice of her and Sacha Baron Cohen for the Thenardiers was kind of predictable and didn't see anything from them that made me say wow. I think there could have been better choices to make those roles more than just humorous cameos. Daniel Huttlestone is perfect as Gavroche (I might have cried then, too), and Isabelle Allen is quite lovely as young Cosette. I loved that there were chairs (I was wondering about that - such an iconic image from the stage show).
So, not perfect, by far. Not something I will buy the soundtrack for, but I think there are enough moments to sustain it. I think there are many missed opportunties and disservices to the actors in the film. I feel kind of bad for Russell Crowe, because he comes off so weak due to the direction. He actually does some fine acting. Amanda Seyfried's voice is no stronger, but she is shot in a much more sympathetic way. But who really goes to Les Mis to watch Cosette? Ha ha ha... No but really, the whole live-singing thing worked better for some moments and was not a good choice for others.