Ok confession time. Prior to watching Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables I had never seen any version of the famous tale. In fact I only recently started listening to the songs from the Broadway show (which are fantastic by the way). So I had no preconceived notions as I walked in to the theatre to get my first taste of Victor Hugo’s story.
As no doubt most of you will know, the basic premise follows Jean Valjean, a man who has spent twenty years of his life for stealing a loaf of bread. Upon his release, he skips parole in order to start a new life, and he spends the rest of the movie hounded by Inspector Javert. Through a moment of thoughtlessness Valjean is partly responsible for the downfall of a woman named Fantine, and in order to atone for his part in her now pathetic existence, Valjean vows to look after her daughter Cosette. The rest of the film focuses on the relationship between Valjean and Cosette as well as the unrelenting chase of Javert as he continues on his quest to hunt down Valjean.
Even if you are used to watching musical films, Les Miserables takes a little while to get used to. Most musical films have their songs prerecorded months in advance, giving a prefect rendition of the song that the actor lip syncs to while they act out their scene. However with Les Mis, Tom Hooper chose to have the actors sing live while they performed. This has the twofold effect of bringing a raw sense of emotion that you normally wouldn’t see, however it means that the singing performances also aren’t as polished as you might expect.
Speaking of the singing, the casting choices in the movie bring along a varied level of singing talent. Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne are more than adequate in their singing roles, and even Sacha Baron Cohen holds his own, causing laughs whenever he appears onscreen as Thénardier the innkeeper. However it is Anne Hathaway’s Fantine that really steals the show with her amazingly raw, vulnerable and wretched rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. A three minute long shot that focuses solely on Hathaway, her grief is almost tangible, displaying the depths of despair she has sunk. I wished she had a larger role in the film as the loss of her character barely a quarter of the way into the movie can really be felt.
But the two real protagonists are Valjean and Javert, played by Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe respectively. These men are basically two sides of the same coin, both following a path that they consider right, with Javert cold and having no room for mercy in his quest for justice, while Valjean displays kindness and forgiveness. Carrying the bulk of the film, Jackman displays a incredible mix of masculinity, sensitivity and accessibility in his portrayal of Valjean and the Tony Award winner handles his musical numbers easily. However the same cannot be said of Crowe. Easily the weakest of the singers, he never really sounds comfortable with any of his songs, and the normally confident actor seems almost nervous in his role.
Overall the film has a strong, gritty, emotional core and you would be hard pressed not to sing along with the songs. There were times where I felt that some of the sung dialogue would have been better served if it had been spoken, and at 160 minutes, there were some sections that felt like they dragged. But these minor quibbles aside, the movie is a great watch.
I give Les Misérables an 8 out of 10.