Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Les Misérables Movie Review

Les Misérables is a story that has been told through the medium of film many times before. It's a classic novel by Victor Hugo and has had at least two film adaptations per decade since 1907. But the 2012 version is the fist film adaptation of the stage production. Les Misérables brought all the power and emotion of the longest running Broadway Musical ever to the big screen.
After 19 years in prison (five for stealing bread for his starving sister and her family, and the rest for trying to escape), Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by the policeman Javert (Russell Crow). After a merciful Bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who famously played Valjean on stage) gives Valjean some precious silver to sell for money, Valjean turns his life around and makes himself a wealthy factory owner and mayor of a town in France. Javert is still hunting for Valjean since he did not meet parole. One of his workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), has a fight when the other workers discover she is sending money to her secret illegitimate daughter. When Valjean discovers that Fantine has resorted to prostitution to care for her daughter, Valjean swears to the dying mother that he will rescue and care for the girl himself. Valjean takes the young Cosette away from The Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter), and she grows into a fine young woman (Amanda Seyfried). Later Cosette falls in love with a young man named Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who is deeply involved in the French Revolution. It is through Marius's friend, Éponine (Samantha Barks) that Marius discovers Cosette. In the interest of keeping Marius alive for the sake of Cosette, Valjean aids the young rebels in their revolt while being ever vigilant to avoid Javert who remains hot on his trail.
When you see Les Misérables on stage you're watching singers act; but in this movie you're seeing actors sing. Several of the actors had some musical background, while others clearly did not. Russell Crow is a great actor, but not much of a singer. He sounds like he stifling a yawn while singing; but given his lack of vocal training, he hit the notes right and did a descent job. Eddie Redmayne's singing sounded nasal, and you could see his jaw and neck trembling with his vibrato. That's not necessarily bad, but it was distracting and an indicator of lack of vocal training. Hugh Jackman was phenomenal! He has Broadway experience and he did a great job singing this iconic role. I think the best performance was from Anne Hathaway. She did very well singing, but her emotional delivery simply blew me away.
Fans of the Broadway play will be head over heels in love with this movie version. As mentioned above, this is actors singing. The classic Broadway music is secondary to the story; the opposite of what happens on stage. I've heard these songs countless times before, but seeing an actual context for them made them much more poignant. In Les Misérables, we are shown close up images of the emotions and pain the characters are experiencing as the story progresses. I've heard “I Dreamed a Dream” before, but Hathaway's delivery made you really think about the lyrics and the pain the words are portraying. That whole song was filmed in one take; the camera doesn't move from her as she weeps and sings of broken dreams and abandoned love. It was powerful, and brought me to tears.
Possibly one of the things that made Les Misérables so good was that is was recorded live. Normally for a filmed musical, the individual actors sing the parts ahead of time in a studio before gathering together to film the scenes and lip-syncing to their own recorded voices. This causes the actors to have to make any acting decisions months before ever seeing their costars face to face. That removes some potential for the actors to act off of each other and generate emotional depth and realism in their delivery. For Les Misérables, the actors sung their lines as if it were the script and later had the music added. This allowed the actors to create a real sense of emotion and projection with their characters that has not been done before in a musical movie like this.
The sets were numerous and gorgeous. The bigger sets were probably enhanced with computer graphic additions, but it was so seamless. We got a feel for the French locations with sweeping exterior shots; it didn't feel confined to a stage. The historic costumes were so detailed and believable. The muskets fired at the barricade looked authentic and even the foley art was excellent.
There was very little actual spoken dialogue; the whole script was dependent upon the songs from the Broadway play. This made the interactions between characters seem unrealistic from time to time. The shots between songs were rushed; for example, one song ends and we see two or three short shots of the unconscious Marius being taken to a hospital, a doctor tending him, Marius walking again, and then suddenly he's at the old tavern where he and his friends used to hang out before starting in on his next song. That should take a lot of time, but we're thrown a couple of shots to suggest the passing of time in a matter of seconds to lead into the next song. While it's clear what has happened, it made the flow of the movie a bit choppy and rushed.
If you enjoy musicals, you will enjoy Les Misérables a lot. This was a powerful rendition of the Broadway classic, and it brings the story and characters to life on a level of reality that cannot be done on a stage. It's a classic story of broken dreams, unrequited love, passion, sacrifice, redemption, and the survival of the human spirit. I've never seen Les Misérables on stage, but this version does the story and music justice. If you don't enjoy musicals much on general principle, you'll likely be waving a white flag of exhausted defeat well before rebels wave the French tricolors. I think this was a beautiful movie and easily one of the best films of 2012. Not many movies can cause me to tear up multiple times, and Les Misérables certainly did. Go see it in theaters while you can. I recommend that you consider buying a copy for your home collection as well.

What is a Broadway Musical that you would love to see made into a major motion picture? Comment below and tell me why!


  1. I am a huge fan of Broadway Musicals and theatrical performances. That being said, I waited with great anticipation for Les Miserables to arrive on the big screen. Rushing to sold out time slots at several different venues, I finally arrived with family in tow, braving the lines and bitter Minnesota cold, to settle in and be mesmerized. And mesmerized I was. As is the want of all major motion picture productions, making the audience sit up and gasp, to be struck by the immensity of the "scene" or the depth of the "passion", the adrenalin rush of the "fear" or the awe of the
    "humanity" is the prime focus. And those most human of emotions ran rampant throughout Les Mis. Huge Jackman never fail's to deliver to his audiences. Yet in this film, there seemed to be a deeper, richer offering. The pain he was enduring, the regret, the frustration and anger were not merely delivered by an "Actor" but were being lived out, very personally, before the viewer's eyes. Anne Hathaway was absolutely remarkable. Many of her previous films have not demanded the depth of anguish that this film role required. Her Fantine was one that truly sets the bar so high, it will be a grand accomplishment, indeed, for the next Actor to play that role, to deliver a more memorable performance. Truly award calibre performances by both of these fine actors. Russell Crowe, sadly, did not deliver the obsessive, vengeful, soul crushing vigilante role of Javier. His performances I thought to be stiff, shallow and very staged. In past productions, he controlled and held the scenes he delivered. That was not the case in Les Mis.
    I was sadly disappointed at the lack of "power" he delivered. Had he been able to channel Maximus Decimus Meridius from his Gladiator days, the fire and the need to destroy he opponent, I believe Les Mis would have been utterly extraordinary. Amanda Seyfried was the epitome of innocence and privilege, bringing the young girl charm and purity of first love to the screen, though there was not a "frantic" feel to her separation from her love, as would be more believable. And the scenes between herself and Jackman as he is dying, were not as emotive as I would have hoped. Still and all, she has an amazing voice and delivered the musical side of the production very well. Eddie Redmayne's Marius was delivered without much ado. That is, until his "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" scene, which was gut-wrenching and more than memorable. He delivered such depth of character, such astute understanding of the pain of loss, and questioning of himself, it left me sobbing. If you haven't seen Les Miserables, you need to. It is well worth the ticket price, and the lines, and the hassles that often accompany new release big block buster movies. Even if you aren't particularly fans of musicals, there is much here, in the story itself, for all to watch, to ponder, and to recognize as a remarkable piece of theatre and human trials. Susan Guest

    1. Wow! Thanks for your comments, Susan! I have to agree with nearly every point you made. I did think that Valjean's death scene was well done. I thought Seyfried and Jackman was very emotive. It brought me to tears as I watched; especially as the post-mortal Fantine appeared to escort Valjean to heaven, assuring him that he would be with God.
      And yes, while Redmayne's performance was relatively lackluster for the most part, the "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" scene was indeed gut-wrenching. His usual facial trembling that accompanied his vibrato seemed more in place as his whole body was trembling as he was wracked with anguish and sorrow for his fallen companions.
      I am a fan of musicals, actually! I've heard Les Mis songs since I was young. I agree that even if viewers aren't really fans of musicals, there is still powerful to behold in Les Misérables. But if they can't appreciate the fact that the characters are singing, they will likely just be annoyed by the movie.
      Thanks so much for your comments! I appreciate your input!