Imagine, France 1815 in the stirrings of the French Revolution. The scene opens and we are thrust into the brutalities faced by slaves and men on parole. Just as you are drawn into their heartache, the cast breaks into song. The singing was expected, this being a musical drama; however, the uneasy shift from acting to singing was a bit of a shock. The change from lines to notes was far from smooth in many cases; in other words the singing became a huge disruption and distraction of the pain and depth depicted in the movie. On a few rare occasions the musical performance enhanced the production, such as when Ann Hathaway (Fantine) performed “I Dreamed a Dream”. Her exceptional voice and emotion in her singing, by far, added to her performance. Hathaway was able to capture the pain and despair and long ago hope into these beautifully crafted words ringing through the audience. Hathaway was not the only one with musical talent, Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) soared in her singing and was able to blend the musical aspect nicely into her character and keep it true to the situation.
Unfortunately little more can be said positively about the musical drama. While the storyline was solid, the portrayal of the singing scenes broke the suspension of disbelief. That is, it ripped the audience from the dark depths and tragedy occurring during the scenes and rushed into an almost comical musical outburst. Granted, those few that were implemented well were outstanding in their ability to pull you deeper into the character’s world. However, for the rest, the acting was not long enough between songs for the audience to connect and get a sense of involvement into the lives of the characters.
There were a few scenes that worked incredibly for shock value, and more importantly brought attention not only to issues during the 19th century, but also those that still exist today. When Fantine has been forced to rock bottom, we see the true, unspeakable horrors of prostitution and how easily a mother will sell her soul to the devil himself to protect and care for her child. Religion is another major aspect of this film, though perhaps not in the traditional way we are accustomed to seeing it. Les Misérables will break your heart but leave you feeling like there was more to the story that was overshadowed by musical performances.