#1 - You cannot compare this to the stage production. Well, I guess you can--but you shouldn't. Doing so would probably damper your enjoyment of both productions. This is not a "remake" of the stage musical, it is a completely different animal and it should be accepted as such.
#2 - Don't bring a soda into this movie. I earned a free small (32 ounces!) soda and redeemed my coupon for this movie. I think I only took two sips of the stuff and, well, since there is no intermission in the movie (yet another fact that separates it from the stage production), I had to make a mad run for the restroom as soon as the credits rolled.
Okay, now that I have that out of the way....
I went into this movie with sort of mixed expectations. I love the stage production, so there was an element of skepticism about there even being a movie. I had also been listening to the soundtrack to the movie (my review here) and I was a little wary about some of the casting.
I am pleased to say that this movie surpassed my expectations--especially once I accepted it as something separate from the stage production. There is a theatrical element to the cinematography, but it works well with the musical score and the soaring arias.
There are some changes to the libretto that go back to the original book, which I found to be very effective. None of these are plot changing, but rather plot clarifying (oh, so THAT is why the barricade is made up of chairs!). There are also some added scenes that help to explain certain situations in the story, which were seamlessly added into the existing libretto.
For those of us who are devoted to the stage production, there is a very, very delightful cameo by Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, as the Bishop of Digne. My mother described him as being a "very Godly fellow," which I think is perfect (of course, I couldn't help but reminded of the last time I saw him--his head on a stake at the hands of the upcoming Superman, but I digress....). The original Eponine, Frances Ruffelle, also makes an appearance--but you'd have to have a keen eye to find her and then not blink for the second she's on screen.
Hugh Jackman turns out a powerful performance as Jean Valjean. I believe that this would have been the performance of the year--if only this were a Daniel Day-Lewis-less year. He does have the vocal chops but his more tenor voice lends itself to a more desperate Valjean.
I will join in with pretty much every reviewer I've read to say that Anne Hathaway gives the performance of a lifetime here. Fantine's story, while only small slice of the Les Miserables pie, is told with gritty reality and Anne Hathaway lives up to every second of it. Amazing!
I was pleasantly surprised with Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks. I'm not sure why, but I didn't expect dynamo performances from either one of them. Of course, Cosette--in the musical--is a bit of a muted character and, in the movie, Eponine is toned down just a bit, but both made the most of their roles here.
Eddie Redmayne as Marius lived up to my hopes--although he did have a rather strange habit of shaking his whole face when he sang vibrato. Annoying, but forgiveable. Still, I think this is a young actor with a very bright future.
The Thenardiers are always crowd pleasers, and this was no different. However, I did find Sascha Baron Cohen a bit lacking. He was definitely comedic, but his Thenardier was missing that evil streak. Helena Bonham Carter, however, hit her role spot on--of course, one would expect no less from her.
This all brings me to Russell Crowe. I was a little harsh on him in my CD review and, while I am not stepping back from what I wrote there, I will say that he did redeem himself somewhat. My mother thought his was the best in the movie. I won't go that far--but he was better than he sounded on the CD. It's true that he lacks the power needed vocally for the role of Javert, but on screen his acting saves him most of the time. The only two times that I really felt that he was over his head in his role were during his two solos. I don't think anyone (other than my mother) would say that this is his best performance, but it isn't as dire as his part of the CD would suggest.
Look, I loved this movie--it's the best movie musical of the new age of movie musicals that I've seen. It triumphs in its through-sung format where other attempts (Evita and The Phantom of the Opera) have failed and it has been able to step away from the shadow of the stage production and become its own work.
In short, I laughed...I cried...and I really, really had to pee at the end!
Now, for the few of you (including my husband) who have never seen the musical and would like a quick synopsis....here you go!
Sorry, I couldn't resist!