Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Allan Brown1
Les Miserables Review
Movie Review: Les Miserables (2012)
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne
Plot: Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-prisoner who after 19 is paroled as a free man. In pursuit of a new life Valjean tears up his parole papers leading to his pursuit by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). When he adopts factory worker Fantine’s child (Anne Hathaway), he finds a reason to keep his freedom.
In 2011 The Kings Speech reigned at the Oscars winning 4 four of the top categories including Best Picture and Best Director. Now 2 years on comes director Tom Hooper’s brave follow up with a film adaptation of the beloved musical Les Miserables.
Following 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released into a world that no longer wants him. As a convict, he wears a mark of shame, (prisoner number 24601). After a chance meeting with a tolerant and merciful priest who gifts Valjean silver from the church and an alibi for the police, see’s Valjean on a path to redemption. He destroys his parole papers and sets out to put the past behind him. On his journey, he becomes the owner of a factory, meets a struggling mother, Fantine (Hathaway), who sells her body to earn money for her child, tracks down her young girl, Cosette and makes the decision to take her into his care. With love and revolution in the air, Valjean must evade discovery and capture by duty bound prison guard Jarvet (Russell Crowe) to protect Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).
Les Miserables is an epic musical that spans over 15 years, has a supporting cast of 10 , a screenplay that is sung through its entirety in a Recitative manner (common in theatre and opera but new for Movie Musicals) and a backdrop of Paris during the 1832 uprising. The story and production is truly epic in almost every way and director Tom Hooper’s brave and courageous direction manages to coax some fearless and unshaken performances from his cast.
The director makes Les Miserables a movie of faces and emotions, rendered beautifully by its cast notably Jackman and Hathaway. The choice to shoot the musical numbers entirely live on set without lip syncing or the use of ADR in post production ultimately reinventing the movie musical is to the director’s credit. This brave and unique method is presented by delivering long, unedited and uninterrupted takes purely focused on the actor’s face’s offering some daring, unflinching and personal performances, both beautiful and tragic, packing a real, raw emotional punch.
Despite the films grand scale in both its cast and vision, there are times were the backdrop does feel like a stage set. Perhaps pulling the camera back to remind the audience of its scale more often would have been more beneficial. Another note would be that the French revolution’s storyline is somewhat overshadowed by the love story between Cosette, Marius and Eponine rendering it little more than unrealised footnote that is not fully explored or felt.
There are a few character performances that feel somewhat jarred and misplaced in the tone and light of the movie. Most notably Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Their slapstick comedic roles although integral to the story feel out of context and overplayed with regards to the rest of the film and ultimately cheapen it somewhat.
The films pace also slows down to a crawl in the third act and shaving at least 30 minutes from its running time could have benefited the movie. However who wants to be the one to answer too for cutting songs from the much loved “Les Misérables”?
Again, it must be noted that all performances were shot live and on set mostly in one unflinching unedited take and apart from a few bum notes the film is all the better for it.
Hooper puts his cast out in front, scaling down the film from gigantic sets and props to make his film “Les Miserables” a movie of faces and emotions, Jackman provides a physically demanding part both in voice and presence and proves himself fully capable, both strong and vulnerable, as Valjean. Anne Hathaway’s brief work as Fantine is memorable, and her signature song “I Dreamed a Dream” stops the film in its tracks with her single shot rendition of I dreamed a dream shot up close and personal which delivers an impressive wounded, defiant vocal. Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne also shine in their roles as Marius and Cosette.
So what of Russell Crowe’s performances as Javet, a performance that has seen much criticism since the movie’s release, in particular his singing which is said to be has below par. This however is of course and always is an exaggeration. Crowes part as the “bass-baritone” performer in “Les Misérables” delivers well and his bass tones compliment the other cast members pitch wonderfully and especially in the “Canon” melodies. There are indeed a few bum notes here and there and that goes for the entire cast. Again, due to the way the film was shot and realised. Notable stage performances although a completely different discipline would have the safety of at least 10/15 ft from its audience as well as being shrouded in ambient light. Here the camera placed less than a foot away from the actors face requiring real unhinged emotion. Anne Hathaway’s performance of I dreamed a dream” see’s her emotions from sadness to anger and back again. The tears are there and very real and all whilst singing out in one continuous take and all live would have been a physical, emotional and stressful endeavor for any actor and production. As a result the film delivers real life imperfections giving these characters a gripping realism that has been missing from Movie Musicals in the past. This in turn heightens the drama and emotional draw of the film.
Summary: Les Misérables brings a bold and fresh take on the Musical genre offering some real courageous and simply stunning Oscar worthy performances.