A heart full of love—and a few criticisms—for Les Miz

Fr. Nash has seen Les Mis five times on Broadway. Now he offers his take on the film.

By Rev. Frank Nash, S.J.

As the credits appear on the screen and the house lights begin to rise, the audience stands and applauds. A very rare occurrence in a movie theater and yet it has been happening all over the country at the showings of Les Miserables. Clearly for many people the film is deeply moving and very effective.

The director, Tom Hooper, demonstrates a remarkable skill in transferring a stage play to the movie screen. He has been able to capture the harshness of the situation on film in a way that could not occur on stage.

The opening scene graphically depicts the horrors of convicts’ life. Fantine’s struggle and defeat is brutally and horrifically portrayed. Add to this the reality of the scenes in the inn, the barricade, the sewer.

In a way the stage version of Les Miserables shelters the audience from the harshness that is central to the story. Because of its ability to show close-ups and to more readily capture emotion, the film version visually has.

Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, is a natural. He sings and acts well and has strongly captured the character’s qualities.

Ann Hathaway embodies Fantine’s despair so intensely that her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” has an harshness about it that deepens the emotional strength of the song.

Other standout performances are Samantha Barks as Eponine and Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Their duet, “A Little Fall of Rain,” moved many in the audience to tears.

As Marius sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” the tears streaming down his cheeks perfectly expressed the emotion of the moment.

Almost the entire cast should be credited with outstanding performances.

As strong as the casting is in this film, there are two exceptions: Russell Crowe as Javert and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. In the case of Crowe his singing is just not strong enough or good enough for the role. Seyfried’s voice lacks a tone compatible with Eddie Redmayne’s. Their duet, “A Heart Full of Love,” lacks the power it should have because their voices are poorly matched.

Although Tom Hooper was not nominated for an Academy Award as best director, he has shown himself to be a master of using film to strengthen an already strong stage production. By using the camera well he has involved the audience more deeply in the dark side of the story. We are forced to feel the anguish of Fantine, her love for her child, her humiliation, her physical pain. In Jean Valjean’s face we see his fear of being recognized by Javert, his compassion as he is confronted with human misery. As Eponine is dying in Marius’s arms, the pain and love deeply moves us.

Although the film, I think, is more powerful than the stage production and the story is easier to follow, I liked the stage production more for what probably amounts to the wrong reasons.

The live performance shielded me from the intensity of the pain and sorrow which is so vividly depicted in the film.

I left the movie thinking of the Fantine filled with pain and bitterness singing “I Dreamed a Dream.”
After seeing the stage performance I left humming “Do You Hear the People Sing,” filled with a sense of excitement.

Rev. Frank Nash, S.J., is alumni chaplain and an affiliate instructor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

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1 Comment

  • Posted by MaryAnne H, Class of 92 | February 7, 2013

    Father Nash’s comparison of the film and the stage production put into words the thoughts that I was having after seeing the film. Thanks for helping me to clarify my thinking, Fr. Nash!

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