Having seen Les Mis on stage, I was pretty curious as to how it would play on the big screen. Largely, quite successfully, so behind the cut I will tear apart the things we liked and didn't like. :)
Much has been made of the actors performing the songs live instead of prerecording and lip syncing to the recordings. I gotta say, it paid off. So, the actors:
Anne Hathaway. Holy crap, Anne Hathaway. I never cared about Fantine before, despite seeing the show and listening to it thousands of times. She *owned* that role. That, she, just, wow. Wow. Holy crap. Wow. Really, there's not a whole lot else to say. It was the best performance in a film full of good ones.
Hugh Jackman. Well, he was very good, which I expected him to be. His transformation from slave to thief to saved, and his conflict throughout, was terrific. And he absolutely sells the kernel of his character in the three times he faces Javert post-breaking-parole. There is never any doubt that he will return after three days, that Javert will find him at home, that all he asks is an hour to save Marius's life--if Javert will let him go to attend those duties that he feels he must. And once he's gone beyond his fear of Javert, his compassion for the other man is equally believable. It was a very, very good performance.
That said, Valjean's part is overall slightly too high for Jackman's voice, and "Bring Him Home" is way too high. The slightly too highness wasn't so much a problem, but Ted and I both thought they should have brought "Bring Him Home" down an octave and let Jackman really own that song. I realize part of the point of the song is its octave, but the other point--to me the more important point--is the sweetness of tone, which he couldn't reach in that octave. We've seen Jackman perform on Broadway, so we both knew that if the song was in a different octave he *could* have made it his own. It would have been ballsy, because it's an iconic piece of Les Mis's music, but I would have really loved to see them take the reins on that one and bring it down so Jackman could have performed it more worthily.
Also, they really didn't need the song they added in hopes of being nominated for the Oscar for the Best Original Song.
Amanda Seyfried. Who knew she could sing? Really, really well, too, even if she suffers from the frequent soprano problem of being only partially comprehensible. And I know all the words.
Russell Crowe. People have been saying Russell Crowe is the weak link in the film. Eh. Yes and no. He's not as comfortable as some of the others, but OTOH, Javert has a stick up his ass anyway. I've read that his voice is "strangled", which again, eh. Maybe. He hasn't got the depth of power that I've heard Javert sung with before, nor, probably, the range. My perception of Javert's songs on stage and soundtracks is that they're full of rage and defiance, even unto the end when death is preferable to living in a world he can't, in essence, understand. For me, though, Crowe's Javert felt and sounded much more tragic than enraged, and I thought that worked really well.
The director should not have allowed Sasha Baron Cohen to do a French accent. No one else had one and it was distracting, not funny. That said, this is the first iteration of Les Mis I've encountered where I believed Thenardier and M. Thenardier were still in love with each other, for which Cohen and Bonham Carter get major props.
Poor Eponine. She knows she's never going to get the boy, and she's a good enough person to help him find the girl he loves *anyway*. I mean, that's a really good person. And because she knows Marius doesn't love her, she sees no way out from the utter horror that is her family. She deserves better (the altos in musicals usually do), and for her goodness, she dies (as altos in musicals often do). The woman who played her, Samantha Barks, has played Eponine on Broadway (or the West End, I can't remember) and brought utter confidence and pathos to the role. She was wonderful.
Much more effective on film was the playing of small numbers at the barricades. On stage, it's the whole cast, so you don't really get the sense of how alone they are, even though the story tells you so. On film it was easier to see how few rebels there really were, and how the people didn't rise to join them.
The immediate flip side of that, however, is that "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is the single most heartbreaking scene I've ever seen on stage, and it utterly lacked the impact on film. On stage--at least the performance I saw--a scrim was brought down between the wrecked cafe and Marius. He was alone, in focus, in full color, and all the other students drifted onto stage behind the scrim, ghostly and faded and gone. It's a hugely powerful scene.
On screen, it suffered from the same thing that much of the film suffered from: too much focus on the singer's face. I mean, it's film, I understand why they did it, and the emotional impact of that was occasionally tremendous. But it left a lot of dead space behind them, space that could have been better utilized.
Furthermore, since in both Fantine and Valjean's death scenes we saw ghosts--Cosette's and Fantine's, respectively (even if Cosette wasn't actually dead, but nevermind that)--there's really no reason that in "Empty Chairs" they couldn't have employed the same effect as on stage, with the other students cleaning up the cafe and being brotherly in soft focus behind Marius. I mean, maybe they thought that would be over the top, but Les Mis is all about over the top, so I don't see how it would've been a problem. :)
In general, that was our biggest complaint with the film, the focus on faces and the resultant dead space. Which, I must say, isn't that big a complaint overall. :) I'd like to see it again, if I get the chance!