Both decades in the making, both getting rave reviews, and both sure to bring home the gold this awards season, Lincoln and Les Miserables bring the pages of history alive and iconic characters to the big screen, leaving us in applause, tears, laughter, and joy.
Lincoln, the newest Spielberg masterpiece, showcases Daniel Day-Lewis as the beloved president. I had to continually remind myself that Abraham Lincoln himself was not gracing us with his presence on screen. Day-Lewis completely disappears into the role, and in Spielberg’s decision to zoom in on this part of his life, the fight to destroy slavery, we see the touch of genius. We see the torment Lincoln faces on all fronts at once. With the Civil War raging, his son’s eagerness to fight in it, his wife’s mental instability, and the rigors of a recently gained re-election, Abe still has to fight tooth and nail for every vote.
His chief allies (at least in politics), William Seward (David Strathairn), Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), and Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), play a dangerous game with the opposition, both from the South and from the pro-slavery representatives in the U.S. House. Victory is gained on both flanks, and Lincoln’s place in history cemented.
The score, acting, writing, and especially the costumes and sets are exquisite. Day-Lewis steals the show, and Jones, Strathairn, and the rest follow suit. This is an all-around success, a certain Best Picture contender come Oscar time.
Les Miserables is surprising similar in effect to Lincoln. Certainly we’re dealing with a musical set in France here, and fictional characters, but the backdrop of revolution is there, as is the promise of Oscar gold.
Anne Hathaway simply steals the show here. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” lingers in the ears and on the tongue. Such a passionate and heartwrenching expression of grief is not seen often on Hollywood screens. Also stealing the show was the love triangle of Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), and Samantha Barks (Éponine).
Actually, there wasn’t a weak link in the acting chain. Even Russell Crowe, who has come under fire for his singing, delivered a solid performance, and gets a few vocal moments to shine. Hugh Jackman plays Valjean as if he was made for the role, although at some points his vocals fall a little flat and talky. The tension and intensity in his eyes at every moment are pure Jackman, and pure greatness. I never cry during movies, but I did shed a few tears as he said his final good-byes.
To go without mentioning Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen would be perhaps a crime as the ones they so often commit as the Thénardiers. Cohen fits in well here, a sly jerk of an innkeeper who sings rowdily well and Carter is her usual stellar self, although the most squeamish part of the film is when she drops a cats tail into a ‘mystery meat’ grinder.
Much has been made of the method of music for Les Mis. Director Tom Hooper did things ‘backwards’ this time around, getting the vocals first, live, on set, and adding the music later. This produces more natural, raw, tones, and allows the vocalists to really get into their renditions. The one exception to this was “Bring Him Home,” one of the most iconic songs, which was delivered by Jackman with a lack of luster. There also were a few times where I was wondering what melody Jackman was trying to sing, as he half sang/half spoke some of his lines, which was distracting on occasion.
But when all is said and done, Les Mis is still stupendous. Worth your time, and worth a look as Best Picture contender. The direction is superb, the acting wonderful, and the emotion and spectacle phenominal. It is highly recommended you see this one in theaters.