WARNING: If you don't want any spoilers, then I advise that you go no further in reading this review...I just couldn't help but give specific examples and lines :)
Now, forgive me for being a swoony female, but we ALL know that the success of a "Jane Eyre" adaption is for the most part measured by its Rochester. The Jane may be very well played, but if you have the wrong man playing Rochester it takes away from Jane herself because the two are supposed to be interconnected. It is for this reason that I took great care in inspecting Michael Fassbender's performance.
Rochester is not an easy character to play. He's brooding, sarcastic, and mysterious. Sometimes he even borders on eccentric. We never really know what goes on under the surface until it's actually revealed to us. When I first saw Michael Fassbender was casted, my immediate reaction was "NO!" Why is that? Because he's freaking GORGEOUS! How could Hollywood insult the very novel by inserting another copy/pasted pretty boy into the movie to play one of the most controversial and internally tormented byronic heroes in literature? But boy, was I wrong. From the moment he fell off the horse, I knew that Fassbender was going to be something great, and that feeling only amplified as I watched him more.
Michael Fassbender absolutely BLEW me away as Rochester. When we first meet him, he plays Rochester as a jackass. He's moody, arrogant, and sarcastic. What's great is that this is how Rochester is SUPPOSED to be! He's an asshole. Fassbender masters the role of Rochester by showing his steady transformation from the arrogant master to the man in passionate love. His facial expressions are on point in every scene. We can see Rochester slowly peeling away Jane's layers while also allowing Jane to peel away his. The book always refers to Rochester as so passionate that he edges on "dangerous", and Fassbender brought that kind of passion to the screen without making it over-dramatic. If you haven't seen the movie, then you'll know what I mean by the time you do. I could go on and on, but the point is that Fassbender IS Rochester for me. Hands down.
Fassbender and Wasikowska had natural chemistry on screen that built as the plot progressed. There were scenes between them that brought tears to my eyes (which does not happen often). Both actors created this natural playfulness between the characters through body language, eye contact, and facial expressions. The simplest scenes were made into the most beautiful; an art that has been lost in Hollywood lately. There was one scene in particular in which there are only about four lines and yet Mia and Michael turned it into one of the most tender moments in the movie.
Rochester: Jane Eyre with nothing to say?
Jane: Everything seems unreal.
Rochester: I am real enough.
Jane: You, sir, are most phantom-like of all.
The supporting cast was as sound as any. Jamie Bell gave a younger take to St. John. In this movie, he and Jane have these awkward moments of eye contact that show St. John might actually have a little crush on her. Jamie made St. John more likeable which in turn established him as more of a foil and rival to Rochester. However, he also kept the basic dettached coldness that is also required of St. John so by the time he proposes we know who Jane is really supposed to be with.
Dame Judi Dench was marvelous, as usual. There's not much you can criticize about her. She gave Miss Fairfax a maternal edge and didn't make her too annoying or "simple-minded." I loved her.
Sally Hawkins also turned in a credible (albeit small) performance. Mrs. Reed was really a sweet woman on the outside, it was just that she was wicked when it came to Jane.
The casting was amazing, but they wouldn't have been half so much had it not been for the fact that Moira Buffini created a beautiful script. The dialogue between the characters, though condensed, stayed faithfully true to the book in almost every circumstance. For "Jane Eyre" fanatics who are obsessed with certain lines in the book (as "Jane Eyre" fans are prone to be), I'm sure that you'll find most of those lines in the movie. This is also the first adaption that actually uses the true Yorkshire accent instead of the usual prim and proper British accent.
Cinematography: Absolutely beautiful. The darkness of the whole setting really emphasizes the gothic elements present in the novel and I found it intriguing to watch how the lighting changed based on Jane's emotions. There are sweeping views of landscapes that emphasize Jane's isolation on the moors.
Adriano Goldman made the setting a character of its own, which is very important, because Thornfield itself almost serves as an independent character.
Soundtrack: When you have Dario Marianelli, it's hard to go wrong. Mark my words, this soundtrack will deffinitely be in talks for the Oscars. Using raw violin samples and subtle piano solos, the score helped the audience feel the same sentiments that Jane herself was feeling. It also flows so effortlessly that it doesn't overshadow the performances but rather finds a mold in them.
Though the plot left much to be desired, other very small details were included in this version that stayed extremely true to the novel. The costumes were perfect, the script was VERY faithful to the book, and while watching the movie I found myself matching certain details to quotes in the novel. I also liked how this movie managed to make the story still be told in first person without using voiceovers. There are many moments where the camera shoots directly from Jane's angle, such as when she's looking through windows, or when she first comes to thornfield. I still got the "first-person" feel, because I saw things through Jane's eyes without constantly having to be alerted by a voiceover. (Some people enjoy voiceovers, but I don't particularly like them.)
Grade: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars