Movie Review: Les Misérables (2012)
To most, Les Misérables needs little introduction but for those like me who perhaps aren’t fans of musicals, Tom Hooper brings us his latest movie epic in the form of the longest running, most famous musical ever. The story of Les Misérables is of one Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man convicted for having stolen a loaf of bread who ends up spending 19 years in prison. He isn’t the smartest of men when we first find him and he promptly breaks his parole, causing his parole officer and prison tormentor Javert (Russell Crowe) to relentlessly hunt him. Events turn and Jean Valjean becomes a righteous man who decides to adopt and care for the daughter of the unfortunate factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) while civil unrest rages in France.
As implied by the name, this film is a pretty dour affair with almost three hours of people tearfully singing through some of the worst experiences imaginable. As such it’s a very powerful and emotional film: the friend I was watching it with cried no less than four times. As a music lover, I was blown away by some of the performances, particularly the triumphant final 2 minutes in which the whole cast got together and sang “Do You Hear the People Sing” which I found very rousing and even brought a lump to my throat. Visually, Les Misérables is spectacular. Whoever was in charge of set design, and even the people in the CGI room, did a fantastic job of portraying both the grandeur and squalor of 19th Century France. From the formidable warship docks to the rain drenched slums and from the grand open squares of Paris to the literal blood bath of the barricade, the entire picture is fully immersive for the viewer in terms of visuals.
Overall I felt the cast worked very well. The child actors in particular were a delight to watch and did an excellent job in my opinion. Of all the cast Anne Hathaway has to be the standout though, her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was heart-breaking and watching her sell her body, her teeth and her hair, which actually happened as it’s shown in the film is similarly devastating. Hugh Jackman too is solid as Jean Valjean and Amanda Seyfried was a pleasant surprise too, it seems this year may be her year. Somewhat controversially, I very much enjoyed Russell Crowe’s performance. Let me be clear: I don’t think he’s a particularly brilliant singer, but I don’t think he’s a terrible singer either like many have said. In fact I think it’s his lack of singing talent/ experience which sold it for me. He sings in a straightforward no-frills manner which, after two and a half hours of vocal Olympics, was very refreshing for me and as a result, when I walked out of the cinema it was his songs which stuck most in my head.
There was something about Les Misérables that left me unperturbed though. As previously mentioned I’m not a huge fan of musicals so that may be the primary reason, but it’s an awfully long film and in three hours of cinema there are only around four spoken sentences which I’m not quite used to. This is especially so when much of the sung conversation seems to be sung purely for the sake of singing. They aren’t particularly memorable tunes yet trivial conversations are sung with gusto and lashings of vibrato which seem slightly unnecessary to me. There was also a tendency to focus in really close to the actors faces when they were singing; this is only really a minor complaint but particularly in the case of the vibrato face-shaking Eddie Redmayne it could be pretty alarming at times. I also felt the Thénardiers were very out of place in this film and didn't really fit the tone with their Cockney almost slapstick humour.
All in all though, I’d recommend this film; there are moments in it when I got chills from some of the vocal performances, even during the more upbeat all-together pieces. It’s a timeless story told by a great cast and a talented director and well worth a watch. What did you think? Did you hate Russell Crowe? Hate me for not liking musicals? Let me know in the comments!