If you're paying any attention whatsoever to the feedback of this movie, it's all about live singing and lots of crying. I'm here to tell you they're right. What sets this film apart from any other I've ever seen was the real emotion in the actors. These music-fueled, live performances are live and raw and real. It's kind of incredible, and that is it's strength. Even vocalists and Les Mis purists find themselves forgiving weak singing simply because the acting, the realism, makes up for it.
Oh, and this is crammed with spoilers. You've been warned.
Look Down: Visually spectacular. I love the incorporation of the boatyard and the water. The entire beginning provides a good understanding of 19th century France and just how miserable lower class living conditions really were.
The Bishop: Casting Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop was perfect. PERFECT. It wouldn't have been the same without him, and this was a great spot to place his unique voice. This behind-the-scenes video sums it up beautifully:
Valjean's Solioquy: Easily one of the film's best moments. Jackman's best performance of the entire film. I'd give him the Oscar nod for this song alone. As a vocalist, I have no idea how he continued singing while crying that hard. RESPECT. You will cry, too, BTW.
At the End of the Day: A storyline driven song. Shorter and quieter than the stage version, but understandably.
Lovely Ladies: Story-driven, and I liked that. It really shows Fantine's deterioration well.
I Dreamed a Dream: This is the song everyone is oohing and aaahing over. It's also the song in the trailer. Countless Anne Hathaway interviews about why she chose to approach it with delicacy and realism. I understood, but I wasn't impressed...until I saw the whole thing. This might not be the best song vocally, but she acts the crap out of the last half of this song, and she manages to do it while continuing to sing decently. Besides, the version that ended up in the movie was a single take. This one will take your breath away. (Start at 2:50 to hear what everyone is buzzing about.)
Who Am I?: Lots of emotion. Love it.
Fantine's Death: Again, very well-acted by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. More lumps in your throat.
The Confrontation: Okay, I'm just gonna say it: Russell Crowe consistantly left me yearning for more. Sure, the film throws in a swordfight to this song for extra drama, but the strength of this song is the argued counterpoint; the vocals need to be strong on this one. I do, however, like that Javert's backstory lyrics are highlighted and don't get hidden away like they usually do.
Castle on a Cloud: Exactly as you expect it to be.
Master of the House: Another confession: I hate the Thenardiers; always have. But at least the film version gives you entertaining antics to watch while you're forced to listen to them sing.
Suddenly: I've read that other stage fans don't like this new addition to the film, but I thought it was sweet and well-performed.
Paris/Look Down: Love Gavroche, as usual.
Stars: Again, falls flat. Russell Crowe seems to have a single vocal dynamic which never changes. To me, this song is morally charged and should be delivered with intention, whether quietly or explosive. It wasn't. Major bummer for me.
ABC Cafe/Red and Black: Once the story moves to Paris, it becomes very clear the students are cast by stage performers, because the vocals improve immensely. Favorites like Killian Donnelly, Aaron Tveit, and Hadley Fraser deliver their sung lines with ease, and I didn't mind one bit.
In My Life/A Heart Full of Love: Amanda Seyfried has a very tight vibrato that distracts me, but that's just a personal thing. Her Cosette is fine enough. Eddie Redmayne's stunning tenor voice and excellent acting, however, make up for the awkwardness. He deserves his own Oscar nod. He's a perfect Marius; today's Michael Ball, if you ask me.
On My Own: Samantha Barks has a decent stage voice; in fact, she plays Eponine on the West End stage and sang the role for the 25th decently enough. But this Eponine felt missing and empty. It was especially disappointing, since this fiesty, lovesick dreamer is my favourite character in the story. Furthermore, On My Own was my audition piece for years. I can feel this character, and she just wasn't all there in the film. BIG disappointment for me.
One Day More: This is one of the songs where you realize these songs were written for the stage. The company-belted One Day More, filled with culminating fervor and passion, is what Les Mis is all about. When you're accustomed to hearing every single person on the stage singing for all they're worth, hearing it sung with any less gumption makes it come across as flacid, especially now that we've all been spoiled by a version with Colm Wilkinson, Ramin Karimloo, Michael Ball, Alfie Boe, and John Owen-Jones on the same bloody stage. The film simply can't compete with that:
Do You Hear the People Sing?: The two things I loved about this one were the visual incorporation of Lamarque's funeral, and the way it starts quietly, yet grows to the anthem we all know and love. It's disappointing they didn't include this song on the soundtrack.
Drink With Me: As expected, the stage boys getting a little limelight. Strangely enough, however, this song, which is usually emotionally charged on stage, isn't so much in the film.
Bring Him Home: On one hand, I loved the emotion. Hugh Jackman's performance gives new depth and dimension to the lyrics. On the other hand, it seemed at the top end of Jackman's range, and not his finest sung notes. It doesn't help that we've been totally spoiled by vocally-perfect versions of this song, especially last year's amazing quartet. I found myself wishing for Alfie Boe's epic key change:
The Final Battle: The film tells the story better, because you can see details up close. It gives the characters and their actions more weight, and I liked that a lot. We also get a tiny snippet of Little People.
Javert's Suicide: See "Stars". Just all-around bummed by Crowe's Javert.
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables: Another of the film's best moments, beginning with a very delicate, accapella opening. BEAUTIFUL. Eddie Redmayne gives an amazingly emotional performance of this classic song while simultaneously singing well. I might even love his Marius more than Michael Ball. (gasp!) Nick Jonas who????
Epilogue: Oh my goodness, just hand out Oscars and Kleenex, seriously. Hugh Jackman's performance pushed me over the edge to Ugly Crying, especially once he can see Fantine. (No Eponine in this version; disappointing, considering that is one of my favourite harmonies in the whole show.) Nevertheless, if you haven't cried yet, this is where you will.
The film takes the ending one step further; Valjean actually stands and follows Fantine out to a courtyard, where a smiling Colm Wilkinson awaits, singing, as the Bishop. (Yep, Jean Valjean himself, standing there singing. I just stopped trying to cover up the snot at this point.) Together, they all walk to an enormous barracade on which everyone who died awaits, singing the final, rousing Do You Hear the People Sing? in the center of Paris.
Seriously, people; ugly crying.
Overall, I kind of loved it. You can feel that it was a labor of love. I will own it when it comes out. And I darn well better see at least Hugh Jackman's name at the awards ceremonies next year, or I might just give up on humanity entirely.