Film Review: Les Misérables

The unfortunate ones. The miserable ones. The poor ones. Les Misérables is the story of the people….the downtrodden and the oppressed all searching for one thing: freedom.

As I have said before, I normally don’t do file reviews on this blog though I am going to make an exception for some of the up and coming books into films due out this year and Les Misérables is one of those exceptions.

Victor Hugo’s master piece came to life on the silver screen this holiday season and I went to see it on its release day. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect as I have not read the novel or seen any of the other film or play variations….I haven’t even heard the Broadway score, so I went into this entirely clueless about what was to come.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, here is a short summary:

Jean Valjean is a prisoner serving a nineteen year sentence for stealing bread to feed his family. The prison where Valjean is kept is supervised by the ambitious lawman, Javert. Valjean is finally granted his ‘freedom’ in the form of lifelong parole and sent out into the streets where he is met with anything but hospitality and opportunity.

Cold, hungry, and alone Valjean is taken in by a bishop who offers him a meal and a place to sleep. Desperate, Valjean robs the church and flees in the night. When he is discovered and brought back by the law, the bishop speaks up for him and offers him a chance at redemption and hope.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity, Valjean begins a new life and identity as a successful business man. Valjean and Javert’s paths continue to cross throughout the years but Javert is not suspicious of the businessman’s true identity until one day he sees Valjean’s display of strength and suspects he is more than he seems.

During his time as a nobleman, Valjean encounters a young woman, Fantine, who works in one of his factories. She is dismissed because she works as a prostitute to support her daughter, Cosette. Fantine left Cosette in the care of thieves, Thenardier and Madam Thenardier. Valjean promises to help Fantine’s daughter and he takes Cosette in and raises her as his own daughter.

In the mean time, France’s government has become increasingly unstable and murmurs of revolt and revolution are on everyone’s tongues including the young nobility. Young Marius is playing an active role in the rebellion until he catches a glimpse of Cosette on the street.

From that moment on, he knows she is the woman he has been waiting for all his life. He is completely in love with her and shocked to learn that Cosette returns his feelings. But with the political unrest boiling, Marius is torn between his love for Cosette and his loyalty to the cause.

The lives of Marius, Cosette, Valjean, Javert, the Thenardier’s and a host of other characters collide in this stunning display of music, history, and drama.

Obviously, the book was not written to be a play or a musical…it was a novel so not for the first time I sat in the chair waiting for the film to start….wondering why on earth anyone would take a novel and make it into a musical? Obviously it’s been done before with Phantom of the Opera but to me, that made sense….Les Mis did not. I am normally not a musical fan but I went in with an open mind and no expectations.

From the first score and opening scene, I was captivated. Director Tom Hopper did a fantastic job with the opening scene….very powerful and awe-inspiring. It was a scene that immediately pulls the audience in with its grandeur and scale. From that moment on, I knew I was in for a real treat.

This is a big novel….a big story….with big concepts such as love, politics, socioeconomics, and revolution…..a big opening scene is required to convey to audiences the scope of this story and in that sense Hooper delivered.

The music was extremely powerful and brought a lot of emotion to an already emotionally charge plot. The music was beautiful and I thought the actors did a marvelous job, even if there were times when some of the songs were pitchy and flawed, I thought those imperfections made the story more real.

I was very impressed by Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine. I am not really a big fan of her, but this film really made me believe in her abilities as an actress. When she sang I Dreamed a Dream, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

I was also impressed by Eddie Redmayne who played Marius….he was oddly sexy and innocent just as I imagined Marius to be. I see a future star in the making. Well done!

And really, how could you not love Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardier’s. I loved the Master of the House scene and thought they brought a much needed comic relief to an emotionally charged film. However I would have liked to see the relationship between the two a little more developed. They were best when playing off each other and I felt like they could have brought a little more of that to the roles.

But it was Samantha Barks, who played Éponine completely blew me away. The emotion she brought to the On My Own ballad was stunning. I loved her, she totally nailed the performance and captured the essence of Éponine’s characters.

When there are so many high caliber, established actors such as Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter together in one film I always wonder why….why do they need so many ‘names’ to carry the film and my first thought is that the ‘names’ will hopefully save a subpar film…..but this is clearly not the case!

Having the seasoned actors mixed in with the rising stars such as Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, and then the new up and coming actors such as Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne balanced it all out…..it was all very well done across the board.

The costuming and makeup were exceptional. I loved how authentic the poor looked with their boils, warts, and missing teeth…it’s things like that, attention to detail, that really enhance the experience. I also loved the artistic elegance of the hair, makeup, and costuming of the Thenardier’s especially.

The only thing that I felt was a little off was there were really no parts that weren’t sung. In other musicals there are breaks between the scores for some dialogue to happen but not in Les Mis…..it was more like an opera in that. There were parts of the dialogue that I thought were awkward when sung and that put me off a bit.

I also wasn’t entirely in love with Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. For me, Cosette was supposed to be the symbol of hope for many of the characters and for me, she was flat and a little boring. I felt like other characters were more memorable than she was…at least for me.

I think the fact that this is a musical might put audiences off a little….I know my husband really doesn’t want to go see this simply because it is a musical. But I think it has something that everyone will appreciate. It’s a timeless historic story about hope and the future above all else.

While this film will probably never compare to the book, it was a very well done production. Large and impressive like the novel.

Best line in the film:

I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living!

Rating: A-

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6 Comments

  1. I went to see the film yesterday. I can’t tell you how many expectations I did have for the production. With so many well known names, I thought there would be plenty of room for the film to flop. Not so, I am happy to say. Hugh Jackman was brilliant as Valjean… I expected a lot from him and he delivered. Anne Hathaway was fantastic. She has this pure, innocent quality to her voice which stirs the emotions, especially when she sang I Dreamed a Dream. She was absolutely Fantine.
    Okay, so I was wondering about the young man who played Marius – he was brilliant. I didn’t know his name… Am glad you mentioned it. I really felt that Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter really added something to the film. They carried a lot of weight with their humor. For me, personally, the weakest link was Russell Crowe. His voice was more rock star oriented and not suited to this. Finally Eponine… Wow! how exciting was she, to watch? To see the character grow through the years was gratifying. She had honor. Tom Hooper.. I adore because he did such a great job with The King’s Speech, this was so well directed and it was live, not pre- recorded -voice tracks – or anything like that.

    Reply
  2. I can’t wait to see this movie. I haven’t read the book but I am familiar with the story and soundtrack. I hope to read the book this year too. It was refreshing to read your review as someone who wasn’t familiar with the story or music at all. I hope that Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway will be rewarded for their performances. Based on what I’ve seen in trailers and from listening to the soundtrack, I am impressed.

    Reply
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