“Sam Yakou’s Review”
Les Miserables Movie Review – When The King’s Speech had finished it’s successful run at the box office — and awards shows — director Tom Hooper was in a unique position. Having just won the Best Director Oscar he was offered a project suitable for his experience as a dramatist; Iron Man 3. Hooper declined and signed on with Working Title Films, a British production company that was moving forward with a film adaptation of the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 historical novel Les Misérables.
The production began decades ago but was fraught with delays. Eventually, the project moved along and began to gain momentum early 2011. It was at this time Hooper signed on. Shortly after, auditions were held with A-listers vying for roles. Due to the demands of the production that every actor be able to sing as well as emote; the film attracted lots of attention from within the industry. Eventually, the cast was named and it did not lack for star power. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried lead an ensemble as strong as any movie’s from the past decade.
Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a Frenchman imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. He is eventually paroled but finds the real world is not very welcoming to an ex-con. He eventually breaks down and becomes the criminal society treats him as. But after a revelation he flees to build a new life as the mayor of a small town and owner of a factory. After two decades Inspector Javert, played with surprising musicality by Crowe, appears and thinks he recognizes the fugitive. Meanwhile, one of Valjean’s factory workers, Fantine, loses her job and finds herself on the street. Destitute and desperate to provide for her daughter she turns to prostitution. After an encounter with a rough john she is accused of assaulting him. Javert is prepared to arrest her but Valjean shows compassion and orders her to be freed.
Upset by this Javert reports Valjean to the authorities who inform him that they have already captured the fugitive. Javert informs Valjean and apologizes for his mistake. However, Valjean reveals himself in order to save the man arrested in his place. He then returns to see Fantine and promised to bring her daughter, Cosette, to her. Javert appears and Valjean is forced to flee.
We then see how Valjean came to have Cosette under his guardianship. The two form a familial bond and spend their lives on the run from an obsessed Javert. In Paris, Cosette falls for Marius Pontmercy, a well-off student and revolutionary. In the midst of the 1832 June Rebellion, all of their lives intertwine with damning consequences.
Les Misérables is an epic in every sense of the word. The direction is stellar, with shots that capture both the emotion and scale of the scenes. The acting is on par with the talent level and every scene is dripping with detail.
However, the film’s pace is at times uneven. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, the length alone is taxing. Coupled with the fact that this is a true musical with most of the dialogue being sung, and it can be downright fatiguing for many audiences. That being said, it is quite a spectacle. Fans of the musical who were looking forward to the film adaptation with apprehension should walk out of the theater satisfied.
“Chris Daily’s Review”
Adapted from one of the most popular musicals ever, Les Misérables is an epic morality tale with sweeping themes of love, revolution, honor, and promises. But on the surface, it’s a really long musical, and not the happy kind, that most modern movie-goers might only be able to connect with in smaller segments. Even thought it might be to large for it’s own good to be unique as a film, Les Mis delivers some stellar performances, artistic grandeur, and tugs a few heart strings.
The film takes place In 19th-century France, where most everyone has a pretty wretched life. The story mostly focuses on doomed protagonist Jean Valjean, played with deft verisimilitude by Hugh Jackman, who was imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child. After having a humbling moment of enlightenment when he is pardoned for stealing again, he realizes that forgiveness and God’s grace have given him another chance in the world and he must use it for good. Unfortunately, this means breaking parole, leading him to be hunted for decades by the relentless police inspector Javert (Russel Crowe).
Years later, we also meet Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is working to send money to her daughter, Cosette. After a series of events causes her to be fired, fall into poverty, and prostitution, Valjean finds her close to death. Feeling responsible, he promises to take care of her daughter. After rescuing Cosette from the lecherous innkeeper Thénardier and his wife, Valjean escapes with her to Paris, where again they hide away.
A final jump forward in time finds the country close to revolution under the current monarchy, and as revolution brews, so does love between a teenage Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and a young idealist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Valjean vows to protect Cosette but make sure she is happily married and taken care of so he can turn himself in and pay his debt. All of this happens as the spark of revolution is about to be set off.
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on here. The running time of this film is about 157 minutes, which for some viewers, might be pushing it for non musical fans. This is a pretty faithful musical to movie adaptation; it’s mostly singing; and devotees of the stage version will be pleased with the transition. The politics of the plot get a little fuzzy, and some things seemed rushed. The film spends a lot of time wading in the glorious music that it’s almost baiting itself for Oscar attention. This doesn’t always work, and sometimes backfires when we lose the human element of the story.
Hooper’s direction takes a broad look at the bigger scenes, but gritty close ups on the quieter introspective songs. His last film, The King’s Speech, was an excellent look at the private struggles of a very public figure and was painfully empathetic. We feel for some of these characters, but we’re not sure why we should care about them. Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is particularly gut wrenching, and could just net Hathaway a best supporting Oscar for her performance. She gets put through hell, for no other reason than that she’s just living in this world. Hugh Jackman carries the film well, and he is at his best when he is vulnerable and courageous about his inner struggles. Sacha Baron Cohen shows more comedic chops in a dramatic film as Thénardier, and Eddie Redmayne’s Marius puts him on the map as a young star to watch. What doesn’t work is Russell Crowe’s singing, simply not on par with Jackman’s gravitas, making Javert a less intimidating foe. Crowe’s rendition of “Stars” normally a show-stopper on stage, fizzles into a spark on the screen. Seyfried, while lithe in her role, has a distracting rapid warble when she sings in vibrato.
There has been much talk about the style in which the music was recorded “live” while the actors were on set. Normally scenes are shot with the actors lip syncing to previous recorded versions, and they are dubbed over much later. This time, the actors had earpieces with the orchestra playing in the background, leaving them to sing on their own tempo, and it was the accompaniment that was recorded to mach them later on. It’s a different film musical technique, and in some cases works very well, like with anything Jackman delivers. But some actors use it as a crutch, speaking instead of singing parts of their songs, and it ultimately makes the entire production a little weaker. Other aspects of the film, like art direction, costumes and cinematography, are sure to get some attention in awards season. The epic scale of each production and setting change are handled well. We are taken, literally, into the underbelly of Paris, to the mountain tops, and to the alleyways of the poor.
Les Misérables works when it’s celebrating it’s musical roots and uses good actors to channel the power of the original work. It’s huge scale supports it’s emotional depth, but the long running time and some singing misfires will certainly turn away some people. One thing is for certain; we can certainly hear the people sing.
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, & Sacha Baron Cohen