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Movie Review: Les Misérables

December 28, 2012

Les Miserables PosterLes Misérables – A Universal Studios Release

http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/splashpage/

Release Date: December 25th, 2012

Rated PG for mature themes, violence and language

Running time: 158 minutes

Tom Hooper (dir.)

William Nicholson (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Russell Crowe as Javert

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette

Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier

Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier

Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras

Samantha Barks as Éponine

Colm Wilkinson as Bishop

Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche

Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette

Les Misérables

©Universal Studios.  All Rights Reserved.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) carries the young Cosette (Isabelle Allen) in Les Misérables.

Our reviews below:

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Les Misérables Review By John C.

*** (out of 4)

“Do you hear the people sing” is the chorus that echoes throughout the end of Les Misérables, director Tom Hooper’s big screen take on the beloved Broadway production adapted from the classic Victor Hugo novel about the repercussions of poverty in 19th Century France.  Carried by song with the singing recorded live on set, this is a musical blockbuster that is beautifully performed by the excellent cast.

The film begins in 1815 as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a prisoner of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), serving nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread.  After he is released and turns his life around, he meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a poor woman working the streets to send money for her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen).  When Jean Valjean has a debt to pay to Fantine, he goes to care for Cosette, rescuing her from the comic relief of the eccentric Monsieur Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his equally over the top wife, Madame (Helena Bonham Carter).

As Jean Valjean raises her to adulthood as his own daughter, the story then takes us to 1832, where Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) has fallen in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who is heading the increasingly violent student uprising of the June Rebellion.  But Marius has also caught the eye of the lovely Éponine (Samantha Barks), and she will go to great lengths to protect him, even if it means letting him be with Cosette.  Things take a tragic turn as the battle rages on in the streets, before the moving final few scenes offer both a touching and ultimately hopeful conclusion to the story.

There are a few pacing problems with Les Misérables, and halfway through the 158 minute film we can feel where the intermission would have been on stage.  But on the flipside, the opening sequences with Jean Valjean feel a touch rushed, and the excellent scenes with Anne Hathaway unfortunately also go by a little too quickly.  The choice to use extreme close ups and a wide angle lens also gives us an oddly claustrophobic feel to some of the shots, which sometimes gives the sense that we are watching the story play out on stage.  But these minor problems I have with Les Misérables are far outweighed by the many positives that the film has to offer, from the excellent acting to the beautifully done musical performances.

Anne Hathaway provides one of the best scenes in the film with her heartbreakingly beautiful cover of “I Dreamed A Dream.”  Filmed in tight close ups and looking seamlessly like a single take, it’s impossible not to be moved by the genuine emotion that comes from her performance.  There is a raw emotional power to Samantha Barks’ version of “On My Own” and her beautiful voice perfectly conveys every feeling of the song, providing another one of the most heartbreaking and best moments in the film.  Having also played Éponine on stage, Samantha Barks is no stranger to the role and easily one of my favourite parts of Les Misérables, even if she is unfortunately only in the film for a few scenes.

Anchored by excellent acting and beautiful musical performances, Les Misérables is an impressively mounted take on the Broadway show that is worth experiencing on the big screen.  “Do you hear the people sing?”  The answer is a big yes.

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Les Misérables Review by Erin V.  

***1/4 (out of 4)

When the film opens, we meet Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a slave who is serving time in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child.  Supervising the prisoners in their work is Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who is very rule bound to his duty and the law believing he has worked out all there is in his moral code.  When Valjean comes up for parole, Javert informs him that he must carry the mark of his crime for all his days and report back or else be imprisoned again.

Through an encounter of unexpected kindness at a church, Valjean is given a second chance and finds himself able to assume a new identity and escape his past it seems.  Eight years later, he is a mayor and it is here that he meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and agrees to protect her child Cosette (Isabelle Allen) who has been living with a particularly nasty (although played for comic-relief) couple since Fantine is too poor to care for her.  But Javert soon finds Valjean again and seems intent on incarcerating him again, and Valjean is forced to go on the run as he raises Fantine’s daughter.

During the last half, when Cosette is an adult (now played by Amanda Seyfried), the story becomes centred around the French Revolution and the battles for freedom that take to the streets.  It is also here that a slight love triangle comes into play as Eponine (Samantha Barks) – the now adult daughter of the mean couple that used to have Cosette – is in love with revolution leader Marius (Eddie Redmayne) while he has fallen quite hard for Cosette.  This section feels in some ways separate from the first part, and it is clear that on stage they’d be broken up by an intermission.

But the thread that ties the whole story together from beginning to end is the story of Jean Valjean and his relationship with Inspector Javert who seems to have whittled down his entire existence into the job of recapturing the parole-breaking Valjean.  So much so that while Valjean is able to change Javert can’t accept this and stuck in his black and white thinking he creates a moral system for himself that he can’t accept as flawed and doesn’t allow for any change for himself or others.

To me I found Les Misérables tells a story centred around second chances and how it’s what we do with them and how they affect us for better or for worse that will drive our paths.

The film is interesting to watch as it is a musical.  Some of the shots are filmed with wide-angle lenses (which is distracting at times), with the thinking that this possibly gives this adaptation of the stage play a more ‘stagey’ effect, and at other times uses a lot of close-ups.  The cast is all very good though, in particular Crowe and Jackman as the leads – despite the first song feeling a little strange as they sang what sounded like dialogue, the fighting duet of “The Confrontation” is a great example of how they can work together, not to mention their own song moments.  And of course Anne Hathaway must be mentioned despite her short screentime.  The rest of the cast worked well for me as well (Redmayne, Seyfried, Barks, etc.).  But whatever you think of the filming techniques, and although it feels a little long at almost three hours, the film is good.  If anything, it feels at times like it is missing the intermission it so clearly has when usually seen.

Still, the music is well worth seeing it for, and I thought the story was well done.  An interesting note is that the actors were actually singing on set with hidden earpieces attached to a live piano player for them, rather than lipsynching to their own recordings of the songs as is the norm on film sets.  Later on the orchestra was added in behind their voice, but there was no pre-recording done for the actors.  I also found the counterpoint of multiple voices on songs quite well done.  For those who’ve loved the stage play, they are going to want to check this one out, and for the rest it is worth discovering it for the first time as well.

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Les Misérables Review by Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Misérables provides an introduction to the modern classic musical.  Told almost entirely through song, the story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who has been in a chain gang after stealing a loaf of bread.  When released, he ends up befriending Fantine (Anne Hathaway), mother of ailing daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen), who is slaving for M. and Mme. Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), a gaudy pair of thieves whose own daughter Éponine is doted upon.

When Fantine dies, Valjean adopts Cosette as his own.  Fast forward several years and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) is a lovely young woman.  She has captured the heart of Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young man who is determined to start a revolt against the 99 percent.

It is easy to see why Les Misérables is a classic.  The music is wonderful and the cast in this adaptation do it justice.  What is particularly phenomenal is the counterpoint between characters.  Although the camerawork is sometimes too close up and the film could have used an intermission.  While Les Miz might have been better on stage, this adaptation is a good cover of the excellent musical, and anyone who appreciates music should see this film.

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Les Misérables Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

Having never seen any productions, stage or film, of Les Misérables before, it’s hard for me to judge how director Tom Hooper’s 158 minute film holds up in comparison.  Judging on its own, this Les Misérables is good, though not perfect.

There are some amazing songs, including Anne Hathaway as Fantine singing “I Dreamed a Dream” and Samantha Barks as Éponine singing “On My Own.”  Actually all the big musical numbers by the various cast members are well done.  It’s the long running time that begs for the intermission that would come with a stage production and the overuse of closeups on singers faces that keeps this film from reaching greatness.

The story itself is a compelling one.  It opens with gaunt looking prisoner of nineteen years Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being given parole by the hard-hearted Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who vows to find reason to put Valjean back in custody in the future.  He manages to assume a new identity years later and runs a profitable work factory.  When one of his female workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is abused and tossed onto the street, Valjean finds himself involved in her life when he finds out she has a daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child).  Valjean rescues Cosette from her thieving caregivers, M. and Mme. Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter).  He then leaves with Cosette and raises her to adulthood.

With Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) all grown up, Valjean returns to Paris where he comes face to face with Inspector Javert.  Cosette falls in love with a young man, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who is involved with the uprising of the French revolution.  However, Éponine (Samantha Barks), M. and Mme. Thénardier’s daughter, is also in love with Marius.  The revolution takes place, many lives are lost and it’s hard to imagine how anything other than despair can remain.

The entire dialogue of the film is spoken in song.  While it works brilliantly in some scenes, others seem off.  It’s the talented cast that keeps Les Misérables worth seeing.  Anne Hathaway is perfect in the too short time she is on screen, and Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe both give admirable performances in their roles.  Isabelle Allen is angelic as young Cosette with Amanda Seyfried holding her own as adult Cosette, and one of the strongest musical performances is from Samantha Barks as Éponine when she sings “On My Own” in the pouring rain.  The comic relief so wonderfully provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter is a welcome distraction from all the despair.

Les Misérables is definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of musicals and this one in particular.  There are some very worthwhile musical numbers that will be worth watching again when the film comes to disc.  In the meantime, the cost of seeing Les Misérables on the big screen is cheaper than attending a stage production.  Just be prepared to shed a tear or two.

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Les Misérables Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Les Misérables is the film version of the popular 1980 French musical, directed by Tom Hooper. In 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from a 19 year sentence of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread, but is an outcast due to his life long parole. Taken in by a kind priest, he resolves to throw away his parole papers and start a new life, setting his former jailer Javert (Russell Crowe) on a lifelong quest to bring him to justice. Eight years later, we see him as a respected mayor who promises the dying woman Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to take care of her daughter Cosette. Valjean buys Cosette’s freedom from a couple of wicked innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter) and escape with her from Javert.

Nine years later, a student revolt is brewing, led by Enjoiras (Aaron Tveit). One of the revolutionaries, Éponine (Samantha Barks) pines for another named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), but he and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) find love at first sight. Valjean is faced with tremendous challenges keeping himself, Marius and Cosette safe from the revolution and the relentless pursuit of Javert.

The classic story of Les Misérables is perfectly suited to its stirring and occasionally melodramatic musical treatment. Unlike all previous movie musicals, the cast doesn’t lip sync to prerecorded music, allowing them to act and sing live (accompanied by a piano in their earpiece later replaced by the full score), resulting in much more spontaneous interpretations previously found only on the stage. They all rise to the challenge with fine acting and voices that range from serviceable to excellent.

The brilliant comic relief from S.B.C. & H.B.C. provides a nice contrast to the otherwise heavy storyline. The only criticism is that at 158 minutes without an intermission the film is challenging to sit through, which of course won’t be a problem watching it at home.

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Consensus: Although a little overlong at 158 minutes, director Tom Hooper’s big screen take on the popular Broadway production of Les Misérables is a beautifully performed musical blockbuster that is carried by an excellent cast.  *** (Out of 4)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather Von Zuben permalink
    December 29, 2012 8:25 pm

    I loved this film version of Les Miserables. I again shed tears throughout this production and thought all of the actors did an amazing job. I didn’t realize until the credits ran that the bishop was played by Colm Wilkinson who I saw perform the role of Jean Valjean in the Toronto production of Les Miz. Loved Samantha Barks take on Eponine and of course Anne Hathaway…such expression through I Dreamed A Dream. My boys both enjoyed the film and my fourteen year old was able to understand the storyline through all of the singing. I was happily surprised at how good Russel Crowe was and loved Hugh Jackman as Valjean. Thank goodness for the bit of comedy provided by Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter. The music is the key and I loved that each person was singing it live…..it gave the story its life. Well done, cast of Les Miserables!!!

    Like

    • December 29, 2012 10:54 pm

      So glad to hear that you and your family enjoyed Les Miserables, Heather! Totally agree that the entire cast is phenomenal, including Samantha Barks and Anne Hathaway.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts – we always appreciate it!

      -John C.

      Like

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