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Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables: Highlights From the Motion Picture Soundtrack

Les Misérables: Highlights From the Motion Picture Soundtrack
2012, Universal Republic
Editors note: I have always strived not to be negative on this blog.  However, I consider this a public service. - Wildy

Les Misérables, the long awaited screen adaptation of the Tony Award winning musical, hit theaters on Christmas Day. We received the soundtrack in the days before Christmas, and my visceral reaction to the album was so bluntly negative that I chose to wait and give it another chance. Suffice it to say that my prior plans to go see the film in the theater has been permanently set aside, as I cannot imagine paying to sit through a film featuring the sort of community theater performances in the film.

Russell Crowe is a primary villain, both in the film and to fans of the musical. Crowe is unable to summon the voice or charisma required to portray Javert. The result is an impotent and ineffective villain who leaves Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) to carry the story. Unfortunately Jackman isn't up to the task, between over-emotive vocal passages and strained attempts to carry some of the more challenging songs in the score.  Even Sacha Baron Cohen, who landed the plum role of Monsieur Thenardier, is woefully miscast. The role, generally an over-the-top show stopper that serves as comic relief is so underplayed as to be boring. The fact that he can't seem to decide whether he's singing in a French or English accent simply adds to the woe.  Helena Bonham Carter is simply lifeless as Madame Thenardier.
Aaron Tveit stands out as Enjolras, outshining Eddie Remayne in his turn as the lovelorn revolutionary Marius. Remayne steps up for the duet "In My Life", which also features a frightened sounding Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and an utterly amazing Samantha Barks as Eponine.  We should also note that young Isabelle Allen shows off an amazing voice in the role of young Cosette.  She will be one to watch.

Many of the movie's signature songs pale in comparison to any one of a number of cast recordings available. Jackman's run through "Bring Him Home" is painfully strained. Likewise Anne Hathaway and "I Dreamed A Dream" and the usually inspiring "One Day More". None live up to their histories in the film version. Hathaway is at least passable, but simply doesn't have the voice or vocal charisma to carry the role.

"Javert's Suicide" simply can't be over soon enough, and is perhaps only outshone for utter lack of heart by Russell Crowe's ineffective stumble through "Stars". The soundtrack closes well with the powerful "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables", even with the afterthought of "Epilogue". Curiously enough, original Jean Valjean Colm Wilkinson was cast in the film version as The Bishop. While Wilkinson easily has the finest voice in the cast, he is stuck in a role here where he never gets to use it fully. It's a nod in homage, but to put him anywhere else would have upstaged the rest of the players.

It's sad, really. Sad to see a majestic show with a soaring musical score cynically cast by a major corporation more interested in fielding eye candy than real talent for musical theater. Hugh Jackman has been playing on his appeal for years, but it simply doesn't carry the weight here. Anne Hathaway and Eddie Remayne are both solid but would be hard pressed to carry their roles on stage. Russell Crowe is just plain awful here, creating a distinct list in the balance of power of the movie.  The real talents here are stuck in smaller roles where there is less risk of upstaging the principals. Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen and Aaron Tveit shine brightly, if briefly, and Colm Wilkinson's sublime voice is never truly heard.
Even the one original song (“Suddenly) offered here seems as if it was added more for Oscar consideration than anything else, and is pretty well bludgeoned by Jackman in any case.   If you've spent the past 20 years or so waiting for the magic of Les Misérables to grace the silver screen, you've longer still to wait. Finding a local or regional stage production of the show might be more fruitful.

Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
You can learn more about the film at  You’d be better off sticking with the musical though, at 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Give the film a chance, you will appreciate some of the casting decisions given the actors' performances on camera. The soundtrack by itself seems to fall short, but there is so much more, with regard to emotion and intimacy, that the film can convey compared to a theatre performance.