“I have to separate myself from the haters on Les Miserables,” I explained to friends this morning. “Because as uncomfortable as I was during the first two hours, I succumbed once Eddie Redmayne and the fiery young lads (including the very noteworthy Aaron Tviet) raise the flags and man the barricades, which starts about 40 minutes before the end. And it sunk in. It got to me.
“And I finally understood, having never seen the stage musical, what Les Miz mania is all about. And I became, at least as far as this section was concerned, a Les Miz queen.”
Otherwise the film, as passionately and energetically composed as it is, felt like a chore to me, something to endure and get through rather than sink into and revel in with my heart wide open. All that agony, all that cruelty. “This is a movie about grime and dirt and suffering at the hands of cruel horrid gargoyles,” I muttered at the halfway mark. One can only stand so much horrific behavior and the infliction of agony in any realm.
For me the tattered, labored, forced-march emotions and general intensity, those constant closeups and that relentless operatic warbling wore me down more and more. I wanted to retreat about an hour in but I stuck it out, and was glad, finally, that I did.
My first glance at my watch happened at the 40-minute mark. I checked it two or three times over the next hour or so. But I forgot all about the time once the the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris began. Although it’s a grind getting there.
Anne Hathaway will definitely snag a Best Supporting Actress nomination for those looks of panic and ache and desperation as she sings her Fantine role — she really does have to play Judy Garland over the next two or three or four years. Hugh Jackman fully deserves a Best Actor nomination as the tale’s moral heo, Jean Valjean — the feeling and the vocal reach are entirely there and sustained start to finish. I had no problem at all (unlike some I’ve spoken with) with Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert — he can sing well enough and holds his own and brings the necessary gruff steel. And Redmayne is surprisingly strong, steady and solid as Marius, a student revolutionary who tumbles for Amanda Seyfried‘s Cosette (adopted daughter of Valjean, biological daughter the late Fantine).
Also excellent are Tviet, Samantha Barks (as the jilted-in-love Eponine), Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the scummy Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, and little Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, a street kid who stands with the barricaders.
And yet if you remove the sweeping effect of the final 40 minutes I mostly agree with today’s reviews by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy and to a somewhat lesser extent by Variety‘s Justin Chang.
Key McCarthy quote: “A gallery of stellar performers wages a Sisyphean battle against musical diarrhea and a laboriously repetitive visual approach in the big screen version of the stage sensation Les Miserables. Victor Hugo‘s monumental 1862 novel about a decades-long manhunt, social inequality, family disruption, injustice and redemption started its musical life onstage in 1980 and has been around ever since. But director Tom Hooper has turned the theatrical extravaganza into something that is far less about the rigors of existence in early 19th century France than it is about actors emoting mightily and singing their guts out.
For Les Miserables “is a film that, when all the emotions are echoed out at an unvarying intensity for more than 2 1/2 hours on a giant screen, feels heavily, if soaringly, monotonous. Subtle and nuanced are two words that will never be used to describe this Les Miserables.”
Two ladies that I came with were weeping, and I get it, I get it. Their feelings are absolutely valid. The aches and passions of this classic tale are strong and elemental and speak to compassion and charity and cries for social justice, which is why it has played so long on stage and touched so many. But how many Les Miz fans have ever participated in an Occupy demonstration?
God help me and call me a sap, but I really fucking love the ending with the banners waving and the barricades up and the proudly defiant “Can You Hear The People Sing?”