I saw this on the day after Christmas. I have seen Les Miserables on stage 4 times - twice on Broadway, including the first time when I was 9. This is to explain that I was seriously predisposed to like this movie. And I really, really did. I liked hearing the songs I love put to music with, mostly, such amazing acting. Hugh Jackman brought some pretty great skill to recreating Jean Valjean, a man who got out of prison and managed to change his life and the life of a young girl. Anne Hathaway is going to completely deserve her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Fantine, a young woman with a child who gets turned out of her job on moral grounds and ends up a prostitute. Fantine's daughter, Cosette (an amazing Isabelle Allen), is raised by Valjean after Fantine's death. However, this means bringing her into his life of hiding from Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman who was there when Valjean was initially released, and has continued to hunt him. I really, really liked Eddie Redmayne who played Marius, a young man who is fighting for equal rights, but falls in love with Cosette. And finally, the last thing I loved was Samantha Barks as Eponine, Marius' friend who helps him find Cosette. I really liked each of these things individually, including Russell Crowe's interpretation of Javert (and yes, his voice too).
Now, the things I would have rather they'd done differently. This movie is an EPIC story. The book it's based on is nearly 1000 pages. The opening scene set me up to think that the movie makers knew this too. A huge ship being dragged into a hanger by prisoners (Valjean). That's the last time this movie felt epic. Almost every other major shot is a close-up of the person singing, until the last moment that still doesn't live up to the epic concept. That's not to say many of the shots aren't great, Fantine's singing close-up is perfect. When we get to the barricades (student's rioting for freedom in Paris), it only looks about 15 feet wide in a tiny corner of the streets. It didn't look as big as the version that appeared on stage. It didn't live up to what this kind of story required. If they were trying to show that it was a smaller and more futile struggle than we knew, it worked, but it was a let down. Also, the performance of Amanda Seyfried was not up to the strength required to sing the part of Cosette, grown up falling in love with Marius. While that part is particularly difficult to sing, it's very high and often on a single note, she was not the person to sing it. The other big thing that failed was the staging and performances of the lighter moments with the Thendariers (Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) - they were very difficult to hear or understand and really didn't bring any of the humor or light-heartedness that every version I've ever seen on stage.
Overall, I still really enjoyed it. I did notice another beef when I bought the soundtrack that I should mention. I didn't notice this during the film, but there is a really bad mixing of the sound - the voices really often do not line up with the beat of the orchestra. They sang the songs live (as opposed to lip syncing later) and I think it did improve the performance and emotion, but the next step was to carefully match the entire orchestra to the voices instead of the other way around, and I think this was a bigger problem than I realized.
I am on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Jess. I have never seen the stage production of Les Miserables, I haven't read the book nor (yet) seen the non-musical film staring Liam Neeson. I only know about the story in a pop culture context, and of course every girl who's ever thought she was God's gift to music has at one time attempted (and likely butchered) "I Dreamed a Dream" or "On My Own," or both if she's particularly delusional. What does all this amount to? I had zero expectations going into the theater. And overall, I liked it.
The winning factor of the film is the performances and how well the "live-singing" benefited the actors. No the singing wasn't perfectly polished, but it felt more in tune with the gritty surroundings and darkness of the story.
Unfortunately, that's the only really good choice Tom Hooper made, because his directing was atrocious. It's all a bit too much when you have virtually 2.5 hours of straight singing and 90% (I didn't really keep track) of the shots are tight close-ups on the actors' faces. In the end, I left theater with a whopper of headache that lasted for the rest of my weekend thanks to the visual attack I suffered. Can you imagine the suffering if the film had been offered in IMAX? Blindness most likely.
And then there's the story. I know it can't be easy chopping a million-page book down to a passable time in the theater (stage or film), but somethings just felt rushed and a bit silly. I like Valjean's story, his hardships and attempts at redemption. I loved poor Fantine's heartbreaking demise. However, her eager willingness to hand over her daughter to a man she did not know, and little Cosette's eagerness to go with a strange man she met in the woods, was disturbing at best. And of course Marius "falling in love" with older Cosette (on the brink of revolution no less) after seeing her for 30 seconds on the street was plain silly. It wouldn't be a big deal if their love story didn't help drive the second act of the film, but thankfully there was a large body count to balance it out, because the revolution was excellent.
As a Les Miserables first-timer, I mostly enjoyed the film, but it wasn't quite as sweeping as I had hoped, given its reputation. Alas, I walked away with a feeling that it could grow on me with time, and that rarely happens.