I'm a pretty unabashed musical fan, so it's surprising even to me that I've never actually seen a stage version of Les Misérables. Chalk it up to bad timing. I was away at university when it opened and was in France for the revivals. (And yes, I know it was originally a French show, but it's never played here in its current form). Nonetheless, I've listened to the soundtrack many times and have also seen the doc on the making of the London production more than once. All of which meant I was pretty excited to see the film version, despite hearing mixed things about it.
And my impressions are decidedly mixed. The film is kind of a strange hybrid of the theatrical and the realistic and it might've been better to go with one or the other. As is often the case with sung-through musicals, a lot of patter is pretty disposable, although there are some great songs here. Another thing that bothered me was the compressed time-frame, which meant that characters were making life-changing decisions, falling in love and getting deathly ill in a matter of seconds. And frankly the whole section about the Paris Uprising of 1832 is just ridiculous. (I'm guessing these flaws existed in the stage version too).
What director Tom Hooper does do well is making us care about the fates of Jean Valjean, Fantine and to a lesser degree, Cosette, Marius and Eponine. A lot of people apparently don't like his reliance on close-ups but I thought it helped forge a connection with the characters. I'd also heard a lot of negative things about Russel Crowe's performance as Javert, but I thought he was pretty solid. I was actually a lot more disappointed in Hugh Jackman's singing, although that may be that's because I still have the voice of Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean, ringing in my ears. (Seriously, u-tube that shit if you haven't heard it, but have a box of tissues handy).
However, I think acting-wise Jackson was good, especially the moments where he is torn between self-interest and doing the right thing. This is a show that talks a lot about God in an unironic way and he was able to convey Valjean's religious conversion pretty convincingly. Special mention also to Sacha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, who seem almost too obvious a choice as the Thénardiers, but they were pretty close to perfect.
As the young lovers, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are suitably attractive and earnest. It's not really Seyfried's fault that Eponine (beautifully played by stage actress Samantha Barks) is a far more interesting character. Nor is it Redmayne's fault that he has the misfortune to appear next to Aaron Tveit (as the revolutionary Enjolras), who has about 10 times the charisma and 10 times the voice.
Which brings me to Anne Hathaway. Now I'd heard a lot of great things about Anne Hathaway's performance in this film, so much so that I figured I would be too conscious of her "performance" to actually be moved by it. But about 30 seconds into her big song, I was bawling, along with the entire audience in the theater with me. That woman is truly an alien from the planet Talent, and all the haters out there better just accept her future world domination.
Being in Paris, I don't get a chance to see the big UK/US musicals anymore and I refuse to see the Frenchified versions. The Théâtre du Châtelet has finally started to import some of the classics in VO, but for newer ones like Avenue Q or Spring Awakening, I guess I better just cross my fingers and wait for the movie versions.