In a sign of extreme confidence after preview screenings sent its Oscar potential skyrocketing, the makers of Les Miserables have released five extended clips from the upcoming musical, which is sure to boost enthusiasm among moviegoers eager for its Christmas Day debut.
In an earlier trailer, we’ve already heard much of Anne Hathaway’s crushing rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” a number that is largely responsible making her the frontrunner for Best Support Actress. But these new clips tend not to be the big hit solos.
Instead, they are mostly ensemble numbers, emphasizing the musical dialogue between characters. That decision is clearly aimed at introducing those less familiar with Les Mis to the fact that it is not just a musical, but all singing.
Like it or not, our modern movie culture has somewhat lost the ability to watch musicals. It happens. The language of filmmaking — and film-watching — evolves and changes like any other. Just as audiences in the early era of talkies balked at musical scores because they didn’t understand who onscreen was playing the instruments, some moviegoers today are turned off when a character just bursts into song.
Musicals like the Best Picture-winning Chicago tried to get around this by splitting its story into two styles — the “real” world of the story, and a kind of stylized, stage world where the musicals would be performed like a fantasy sequence. Just like watching Glee and asking, “How the hell do these kids sing and dance the song perfectly when it’s their first rehearsal?” you have to suspend disbelief going in, and accept that this is part of the logic of the story.
Les Mis doesn’t have that “It’s-all-a-musical-fantasy” avenue open to it: It presents a grim, gritty world for its characters in early 19th-Century Paris. There is no fantasy or glitz. In fact, there’s no dancing at all — which is rare for a musical. Instead, the characters sing — everything. If clips like these let non-musical fans know the deal going in, they might be more open to it.
Russell Crowe as the singing policeman
I’ve posted them in chronological order according to the story, beginning with the one above from the opening scene of the movie. Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is released from the slave life of a prisoner (his crime was stealing bread for his starving family), and Russell Crowe’s Inspector Javert — at this point just a prison guard — warns that he’ll be watching him.
Crowe’s singing hasn’t been prominently featured in any trailers for the film, so this is the public’s first big taste of it. His performance will be one of the most divisive in the film. Some dislike it because his style differs so greatly from the others — kind of a Jesus Christ Superstar rock-opera thing.
Jackman and Hathaway, for example, tend to talk-sing through their performances — using the live-performance style to inject more emotional breaks into their songs. For better or worse, Crowe sing-sings through his.
I would argue this is a good thing, and appropriate for Javert, since it emphasizes the rigidity of his character — a man who respects precision and dedication above all. A man who plays by the rules. Literally and metaphorically, he is someone who cannot forgive himself (or anyone else) for a wrong note.
These new clips will also be helpful for reminding awards voters about the ensemble nature of the film, highlighting the acting not just in soliloquy numbers like “I Dreamed a Dream” but in scenes like this one, “At the End of the Day.”
It’s set in a factory owned by Valjean, many years after he turned fugitive and used a surprisingly generous gift to establish himself in a new identity. The other women in the factory turn on the humble Fantine (Hathaway) and expose the fact that she is an unwed mother to their sexually-harassing foreman, who already has a grudge against Fantine because she rejects his advances.
This is a bad scene for Fantine, the beginning of a harrowing downfall for her. It’s also a good example of how the music fits into a scene that in a more traditional musical would just be spoken dialogue.
NEXT PAGE: Hugh Jackman sings ‘Who Am I’
One of two exceptions in this collection where the focus is on one actor. Hathaway has her moment in “I Dreamed a Dream,” and Jackman has his in this opening from the rousing “Who Am I.”
The now-respectable Valjean — hiding in plain sight as the businessman and mayor known as Monsieur le Maire — again encounters Crowe’s Javert, this time as a police captain. Javert suspects this man is the fugitive parolee he has been chasing for years, but then begs his forgiveness when another man is caught and accused of being Valjean.
That begins this song for Valjean — does he reveal himself to save this stranger’s life, destroying everything he has built for himself (and the jobs he provides for others), or does he allow this man to suffer an undeserved fate, forever protecting himself from suspicion — but perhaps damning his soul?
It’s one of Jackman’s finest moments in a movie full of them, and releasing this clip now could be aimed at underscoring that for voters considering him for Best Actor, which is one of the toughest fields this year.
Team Jacob? Team Edward?
Phhhh … Victor Hugo created the original teen love triangle with this story of young yearning between Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the adult daughter of the tragic Fantine, and Marius (My Week With Marilyn‘s Eddie Redmayne), and — unseen in this clip — Eponine (newcomer Samantha Barks), the shockingly noble daughter of the thieving innkeepers the Thenardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.)
“A Heart Full of Love” has a little Valjean at the beginning, and a little Eponine at the end, but it’s largely a duet between Cosette and Marius, a student revolutionary who is beginning to wonder whether his cause is worth dying for.
Universal would be wise to put out a clip of Redmayne singing Marius signature solo “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” since he has a strong shot at a supporting actor nomination with the right bit of luck.
NEXT PAGE: Samantha Barks’ tearful ‘On My Own’
In Les Miserables, singing in the rain is hardly a glorious feeling. And Eponine is definitely not happy again.
Samantha Barks, who played the role of Eponine onstage in London for a year, is another potential player for supporting actress, though she’s something of a longshot since co-star Hathaway is such a dominant player in that category.
Barks, who is 22, could join those other young, first-time actresses who hit the Oscar jackpot in their debut, such as Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit, or Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls.
Those actresses and performances are radically different from each other, but the common denominator is emotion. Each one made moviegoers feel something deeply. This song, “On My Own,” which follows her realization that Cosette is likely to win Marius’ heart instead of her, will fulfill that and then some.
Academy voters may feel that this Les Miserables breakthrough is enough reward itself for the young actress, but regular moviegoers are sure to swoon for Barks’ Eponine. It’s Marius’ loss.