Victor Hugo’s epic story of love and tragedy set in the years following the French Revolution, Les Miserables is not only a wonderful story but also one of the most famous musicals on the planet. Ex-convict Jean Valjean is faced with raising the orphaned child of former employee after turning his life around. Since then though he’s been exposed and pursued by Inspector Javert who intends to jail him for skipping parole before his reform. From here we skip into the future where Cosette finds love at first sight with handsome revolutionary Marius who has brutally friend-zoned his other admirer Eponine (who was kind of a step-sister to Cosette as a child).
Hugh Jackman (X-Men, The Prestige, Real Steel)
Russell Crowe (American Gangster, Gladiator, 3:10 To Yuma)
Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Alice In Wonderland, The Devil Wears Prada)
Amanda Seyfried (In Time, Red Riding Hood, Mama Mia!)
Directed by: Tom Hooper (The Damned United, The King’s Speech)
What Did I Think Of The Film?
As a big fan of the novel I was really excited to see the big budget film adaptation of the musical. I’ve never been lucky enough to experience the musical in the theatre but a massive Hollywood production with some of the biggest movie stars on the planet is good enough compensation I suppose.
From the offset the film hits you visually; the first scene we see is of a massive CGI French ship, broken by a storm being dragged into a dry dock by a hundred scruffy looking prisoners including our hero Jean Valjean. It’s a base of this kind of stunning scene that the rest of the film is built upon. Whether it’s Valjean dragging a massive flagpole to Javert while spray from the ocean pours over them, Javert scaling a balcony high above the city with the Notre Dame cathedral looming in the background or the rebel students of the ABC scaling the barricades up against hordes of soldiers, every scene is absolutely beautiful (except for the ones that are supposed to be gross of course) and although it’s not what you’re looking for initially, you can definitely appreciate the cinematography on show.
The thing you are looking for of course is the musical numbers. My initial reaction was that the actors singing is very raw, the opening number is not great and I’ll be honest, it had me worried but I’ll touch on that later. All of the big, famous songs are as close to perfection as you’d hope for and most of the others are very good. ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ is done superbly by Anne Hathaway and she makes it obvious how attached to this film and the character of Fantine she is. The ensemble performance of ‘One Day More’ is stunning and coupled with the visuals that go along with it it’s clear to see why it’s the main focus of the films trailer. ‘On My Own’ is easily the most technically well done piece in the movie, admittedly it is being performed by a talented West End actress but that takes nothing away from how moving and emotional it is. My, and I imagine most people’s personal favourite though has to be ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’. I find it hard to believe that seeing and hearing the crowds chanting this number as they carried out their plans of revolution could fail to raise goosebumps on anybody, I’m not quite sure what kind of feeling I experienced, some kind of mixture of pride and inspiration and support that I can only refer to as the Braveheart effect.
The cast is probably the biggest pull for those unfamiliar with the stage show or the novel. Jackman, Crowe and Hathaway are obviously massive names in the industry and would create a bit of pull on their own but the inclusion of Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen makes it a real all star lineup. An interesting side of the casting was that Tom Hooper decided all of the actors based on auditions (with the exception I believe of Mr Jackman who was locked in as Jean Valjean from the start), of which he claimed Anne Hathaway’s was the best he has ever seen. I think this stance is a real breath of fresh air for the industry where the big names tend to get what they want. One concern I have over this policy is the credibility of the casting director who decided Mr Crowe was the best option available to play Inspector Javert. Although he looks the part and is a fantastic actor in general, his singing is iffy here on more than one occasion and I hate to say it but by far the weakest of the bunch on that front. The rest of the cast are absolutely spot on though; Jackman is very solid in the lead and you feel a real sense of attachment to the character, Hathaway gives an incredible performance during the short time she is on screen and is very deserving of her Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne who play Cosette and Marius make such a lovely couple on screen and are both very talented actors and singers and get to show that talent off in the central roles that they play. Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter (God this double-barrelled name stuff is tiring!) are as awesome and mad as ever and have excellent chemistry together although Helena Bonham Carter playing yet another caricature of herself does irritate me a bit, I’d really like to see her in a more ‘normal’ outfit for a change. The real revelation for me though is clearly Samantha Barks. The step up she’s made into her first big screen role is remarkable and it really does suit her. Playing the small but very significant part of Eponine in this story is obviously a good entry point for her given her musical theatre experience in London’s West End and given her superb performance here I can see her making the step up into other features in the near future, she clearly has the talent and the looks to make it in Hollywood.
Les Miserables really is a fantastic film, not perfect, but very very good. I know it’s a cliché but the best summary I can give is an emotional rollercoaster; so many great expressions of love and sadness and justice and pride, and I’m not ashamed to say I walked out with a lump firmly in my throat and slightly reddened eyes as well as a smile on my face. It’s also a bit of a milestone for me as I witnessed for the first time an audience applaud the film at the end. An awesome experience, start to finish, even if it does seem a bit long at times and fully deserving of its Oscar nominations, go and see it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
Stewart Scott – @TheStewDog