I dreamed a dream (or more of a nightmare really) that Les Misérables would be a painful experience and I would most likely hate every single note of it. Although I go into every film with an empty mind hoping to enjoy it, you could say that musicals aren’t exactly my thing. Imagine my surprise then when the nightmare didn’t eventuate. I have eaten my hat and am ready admit that this is a pretty great film. Review after the jump!
Based on the incredibly successful musical, which in turn is based on the 1862 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and his incredible life and those it influenced. Valjean was a prisoner who upon release broke his parole and was pursued from there on out by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean changes his name and eventually becomes major of a French town, where he meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a desolate woman with a daughter in desperate need of help. Valjean agrees to care for her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and he raises the girl as his own.
Despite turning his life around and having a daughter he loves, Valjean is still a man living a lie, in fear of the day his identity as a prisoner on the run will be discovered. His fears are realised at the dawn of the Paris Uprising when Javert finally catches up with him. Valjean must protect Cosette from his past, and from the pain that both the revolution and love can bring.
I know next to nothing about the stage show or musicals in general, and I must admit that I was extremely apprehensive when I was told that the whole film was sung or “sung-spoke”. While this did get a little tedious at times, I am happy to say that you actually stop noticing it after a while. Most of the actors have very good voices, and it is actually quite lovely to hear such poetic words sung by them.
The performances and singing in this film are for the most part very good; in particular Hathaway and Isabelle Allen (who plays the young Cosette) are extraordinary. The raw feelings that Hathaway puts into her performance is heart-piercing stuff, and the moments that feature her have the most emotional depth. Jackman does an excellent job at carrying the film and he is extremely personable as our gallant hero. Unfortunately the same compliments cannot be paid to Russell Crowe who is maddeningly inconsistent – one minute he is carrying a tune and the next he has just lost it. For such an important character he seemed to have very little conviction.
I also have little praise for Helena Bonham Carter who played her usual irritating, kooky self; or for Eddie Redmayne who had this weird grin on his face for most of the film. While Sacha Baron Cohen certainly drew on characters he has played in the past, he added some much-needed comedy to the mostly sombre film.
Tom Hooper is a career director, and he directs the hell out of this historical epic. For the most part this is not a bad thing, as a film on this scale could only be managed by someone with considerable talent. However some of the camera work leaves a lot to be desired with some of the film being shot more like an intrepid Man vs. Wild episode than a film. The costumes and the make-up cannot be faulted, with the make-up which ages the characters being particularly impressive. There are so many close-ups of intensely emotional moments in this film, and the make-up was a crucial element in the success of these moments.
So for someone who expected not to like this film, I have a lot of praise to give. Yes the singing got to me at times; and yes the film was too long – but in the end I actually had a pretty good time with it and found that there was much to admire. Who knows, I might even watch the stage show one day.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer(s): William Nicholson (screenplay)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne
Runtime: 157 minutes
Release date(s): USA: December 25 2012; Australia: December 26 2012; New Zealand: January 10 2013