Les Miserables Movie Review

Update: I found the entire 25th Anniversary Concert on YouTube. Enjoy! 

I am no theatre or movie critic. I am far from it. I have seen a total of 2 movies in the theater in all of 2012.

I am, however, a fan of Les Mis. I am a huge fan of Les Mis. When I was in 3rd grade, I had an agent in New York. My first Broadway audition was for Les Mis for Young Cosette. We were told that I was 1 inch too tall for the role (when children go through huge growth spurts at that age, every centimeter matters for the stage). By the time I was out of elementary school, I had seen the musical 3 times. I saw it again a couple of times in middle and high school. My family owns every movie and stage adaptation/anniversary concert that has ever been made about the musical. I know why Eponine has her arms crossed during “On My Own” in the original production (and each subsequent production), and know all of the words to every song. In football games, when the band plays “Look Down,” I laugh that they are playing a song from a musical at a football game (yes, the music is that good). I. Love. Les. Miserables!

So, I have been waiting for someone to make a movie of Les Mis for the better part of 20 years. I have been watching casting news, previews, sneak peeks, and the like for months (years?). Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean? Ok, that works. Anne Hathaway? Hm, I can see that. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers? Yes!

It came out of Christmas Day, and I wanted to see it on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, it was sold out, so we had to settle for the first matinee on the 26th. After getting our seats in the back row and settling for a $5.50 ice water (that’s a separate story), we watched all 7 previews (whew, does Star Trek look exciting!), and then the show started!

I’m going to break down this review into different sections: story, movie artistry, characters/actors, and would I see this again? I want to share right now that I am opinionated. It might not appear that in other blog posts, but I am. Especially when it comes to theatre. Especially with Les Mis. So get ready for this:

1. Story: 

Well, the story of Les Mis is basically the same as the musical. Jean Valjean is a convict for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child. He is released on parole after being imprisoned for 20 years. He has trouble finding work and finds sanctuary with a kind priest. JVJ steals silver, gets caught, and the police bring him back to the priest because his story is that the priest gave him the silver as a gift. The priest falsely verifies the story, also giving candlesticks to JVJ (I love that we see them appear later, as JVJ doesn’t sell them). JVJ turns to G-d and dedicates his life to an honorable purpose. He also tears up his papers that identify him as a convict.

We next see him in 8 years as the mayor of a town/owner of a factory. He walks in to a dispute with some female factory workers and walks away from it. Fantine, the accused, is thrown out by the foreman, and she feels lost. She has a daughter to protect, and she needs money. She turns to the street, selling a locket, her hair, and her body. She gets in trouble, runs back into JVJ, and he recognizes her and sends her to a hospital for care. JVJ runs into Javert (the officer who is looking for the escaped convict 24601/JVJ), and JVJ escapes without be captured. JVJ promise to take care of Fantine’s daughter Cosette.

The young Cosette is staying with/working for a shifty innkeeper and his wife (the Thenardiers). They sing a very funny song (much needed at this point in the story). They treat their daughter Eponine well and Cosette awfully. JVJ comes and buys her freedom.

Fast forward to 8 years later, and JVJ and Cosette constantly look over their shoulder, as JVJ is worried about Javert coming to get him (although Cosette knows nothing about this past). Cosette meets the student Marius in the streets and they both instantly fall in love. Marius is followed around by a lovesick grown-up Eponine, who has now taken to the streets with her parents, picking pockets and stealing to make money. Marius is a part of an uprising group of students, and his meeting with Cosette make him wonder if the rebellion is worth it.

Eponine runs errands and messages back and forth for her Marius and Cosette, although she knows that he only has eyes now for Cosette. JVJ thinks that Javert has found their hideout, and so he plans to leave, upsetting Cosette (as she thinks she will never again see Marius). Once Marius finds that Cosette will be leaving, he decides that he will fight in the rebellion with his friends.

As the fighting is upon them, Eponine delivers a message and wallows in her pity, knowing that Marius will not return her love. She dresses up like a boy to be able to fight alongside Marius. When returning to the barricade that the students have set up, she is shot and dies in Marius’ arms.

Along with the fighting, Javert tries to make the rebels believe that he is on their side and can spy on the troops. The young Gavroche knows him and reveals his identity. Javert is captured. JVJ appears, after finding out about Cosette’s love for Marius. He wants to protect the boy that has captured his daughter’s heart. He saves the rebels, and he is allowed to “kill” Javert. Instead, he allows Javert to go free. This kindness ends up being too much for Javert to handle, and he will end up killing himself.

There is a lot of fighting, and all of the rebels are killed in the fighting. Marius is injured, and JVJ carries him into the sewer to take him to freedom. Thenardier is in the sewer and sees JVJ carrying Marius. JVJ does not reveal to Marius that he has saved him, and instead he allows Cosette to nurse him back to health.

Marius grieves the loss of his friends, but he marries Cosette when he heals. The Thenadiers come to be a part of the lavish ball.  Monsieur Thenardier makes up a story that JVJ has killed this man that he carried in the sewer and shows a ring to prove it. It is actually Marius’ ring, and the boy then knows that JVJ was his rescuer that day.

JVJ has gone away, as he is sick and dying. He wants to hide his condition from Cosette. Marius and Cosette find him and are able to thank him for all of his good deeds and Cosette finds out the truth about her father’s past before he passes away.

Overall, I think that the movie did a good job at portraying the story from the musical. They have added in a few touches from the novel by Victor Hugo, which was a nice tip of the hat to those that love the book. I was happy with the fact that they kept the interludes as well, instead of just having dialogue between the well-known songs. Yes, there was more spoken word than in the stage musical, but that is to be expected with the adaptation to the screen. I absolutely did not like that they added in another song for Jean Valjean after he takes Young Cosette away from the Thenadiers. It was a sweet song, and Wolverine Hugh Jackman did a good job singing it, but I am a purist, and I wanted to only hear the songs that I knew. That was a surprise, and I wasn’t ready for it. I sat through this song with a sour lemon face. When Tim asked me about it, I called it a “fake song.”

I also wasn’t a fan of how they made Eponine sing her classic “On My Own” before the end of Act 1. This completely threw me, as I was thinking that they shouldn’t be doing this song at this time. I wasn’t able to enjoy the song as much as I wanted, especially since the actress playing Eponine was a fabulous choice.

In addition, for those that know the lyrics backwards and forwards, there were several times that I was taken aback with lyric changes that changed things slightly. Sometimes, these were effortless changes, but there was one moment that just screamed at being awkward: Monsieur Thenardier and his gang goes to JVJ’s house to rob it, and he comes across Eponine. There should be dialogue before the lead in, but in the movie, they just jump to “Who is this hussy?” It just jumped in to the scene a little too fast, especially after the love song that came before it.

One other slight story change to remark was that in the end, when JVJ dies, Fantine comes back to lead him to his final destination. In the stage version, Eponine also appears with Fantine. This always confused me, as JVJ and Eponine never had a connection together, and it seemed odd that she was there to lead him to his salvation. In the movie, they have brought back Colm Wilkinson, the priest, to lead him with Fantine. That was beautiful. I missed the duet that the two ladies sang, but it fit so much better with the story. The priest was the reason why JVJ changed his life, and it was perfect that he was there to usher him to Heaven. It was beautiful, and it was a change that I was thrilled to see.

2. Movie Artistry

Overall, it was a well-done movie. The opening shot of the giant ship and the port was obviously done with CG (I don’t want to know that I’m seeing CG in a “realistic fiction” movie), although it showed the magnitude of the work that the convicts were doing. The rest of the far-away shots were better than this first one. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see too many of these shots, as Tom Hooper loved close-ups. His actors are good-looking men and women, but it was evident that the Hooper was basically obsessed with close-ups. This was great for the first part of the movie, as we were finding lots of character development shots to see their reaction to the ongoing events. I started to notice it as a problem during Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream.” Anne Hathaway looked around, looked over her shoulder, looked up, and I wanted to see what she was looking at. What made her change her focus? Yes, we got to focus on that character during that close-up, but sometimes it became too much. When JVJ is dying, I didn’t want to just see his neck and face. I wanted to see how he was sitting. I wanted the see his room and surroundings. I wanted to understand the setting as well as the character. I did learn that the makeup was great, however. I knew this was a problem going into the movie (critics have been talking about this for weeks), but I didn’t realize how distracting it would be throughout the movie.

One other issue that I had was that it seemed that the scenes were sometimes choppily thrown together. There wasn’t a stopping point for the audience to breath after a heavy moment, the way that we experienced it on stage. When you watch the musical on stage, there is applause, the audience breaks the weight of the story. There is a moment of reprieve. In a movie, we do not get that same break. We keep going forward, onto the next and next and next scene. We don’t stop. We get more and more weight and miserable-ness thrust on us. We feel miserable too. Critics have commented on this with the movie, and I believe it has to do with the fact that we can’t applaud in between songs. We just keep going. In addition, the Hooper doesn’t help us in that he doesn’t let moment of silence go on. There aren’t any pauses, fades to dark (or even to the next scene). Sometimes, we aren’t even sure if we are jumping to a moment 1 second later or 1 day later. We are unsure and confused as the audience. In theatre, we know about timing. The actors had it, but it didn’t seem like the director did.

3. Characters/Actors:

Jean Valjean:

This is a role that needs to be played by a versatile, talented singer. JVJ stretches over 16 years from being a convict to a wealthy mayor to a scared father and sick old man. The range of songs (and the need to be a strong singer) is necessary, and Hugh Jackman was fantastic. Was he a Colm Wilkinson? No. No one is. But he was a great actor to carry an important and acting-heavy role.

Priest:

When I heard that Colm Wilkinson would be playing the priest, I was thrilled. His voice is soft, rough, kind, and wise, all at once. He is the definitive Jean Valjean, yet his age (and non-A-list-status) made him too old/unknown to play the role in the movie. Thank goodness someone was thinking and made him the pivitol role of the priest. He was perfection. For those of us that love Les Mis, it was also so poignant that he guided JVJ into a new, pious life, as if he knew what was in store (he did, because he played that role!). I mentioned earlier that I loved him appearing in the last scene as well. I loved it so much that I burst into tears (I was already crying with Fantine comforting and singing to JVJ). Just perfection.

Fantine:

Anne Hathaway was incredible. I have heard everyone buzz about her in this role. I love AH, as I have since The Princess Diary. I want to be her. I didn’t love, however, the first trailer with her singing “I Dreamed a Dream.” It was different than the strong voice that I was used to hearing with Fantine. It felt weak, strange, off. Each time I listened to it, I felt the same way. I just didn’t get it. Then I watched her in this role. I got it. Focusing on her for the entire song of “I Dreamed a Dream” was beautiful in a frightening way (Yes, if this was later in the movie, I would have been tired of the close-up shot, but it was perfect at this moment). AH was hauntingly brilliant. She deserves every accolade that goes her way, and then some. I saw a friend’s comment on Facebook, and he said that she sang it as if it was written for her. I completely agree. I will never be able to listen to that song without tying it to AH. And there have been some amazing Fantines that came before her!

Young Cosette:

Simply delightful. She was sad, strong, scared, and showed longing. Her immediate acceptance of JVJ and his goodness of character was sweet, and her voice was pure. I personally love the original brunette-versioned Cosette, but this child was fantastic.

 Thenadier and Mme Thenadier:

I cannot separate these two, as they were just perfect for these roles. Sacha Baron Cohen was funny in an understated way. Helena Bonham Carter was cooky and brash. I loved both of them, as I knew I would. They can sing fine, and their comedic timing together was terrific. Their scene was sooooo needed, as the heaviness was stifling. They added the touch of understated comedy that was needed for these roles. It’s almost as if they have done this before (*cough* Sweeney Todd *cough*). My biggest hesitation was that their song “Master of the House” was not as energetic as it appears onstage. This was not their fault, as the excitement comes from the activity from all of the characters on stage at once. With Hopper’s close-ups and tight action shots, we didn’t get to see everyone at once (although we really saw how slimely the Thenadiers were). This was not an acting problem, but a problem with directing. Finally, I wish (oh I wish), that when they carried the Thenadiers away from the wedding reception and placed them back on their feet, there was the clang of silverware hitting the ground. This is a priceless moment in the stage version, and it would have been a final button to end those characters.

Young Eponine:

What a cute girl, and I enjoyed seeing her interactions with Monsieur Thenardier during “Master of the House.” It showed quite a difference to her relationship with her father later on in the movie.

Cosette:

I am used to Cosette having a beautiful operatic voice. Amanda Seyfried does not have that. Hers was a very weak voice, but it actually fit the character very well (although I love Young Cosette, the older version doesn’t have much acting range). I was happily surprised, however, with the fact that AS can act, and did so better than I have seen in other movies. Overall, I am ok with this choice.

Marius:

Eddie Redmayne did a fantastic job and has a beautiful voice. I am so happy that they cast this by an actor that really could sing and act. His rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was fantastic. I also loved the chemistry between him and Samantha Barks (Eponine).

Students/Revolutionaries:

All of them were terrific. You could sense the comraderie, back-stories, and strength in these characters. Fantastic voices.

Gavroche:

What a terrific choice in Daniel Huttlestone. Cute kid and it was heartbreaking during his death (it always is).

 Ensemble:

Great choices with the ensemble.

Javert:

Ok, I wanted to give all of the praise before I got to Javert and Russell Crowe. Ugh. I dislike that I have to put those two names in the same sentence. Many people know that I do not like Russell Crowe. Do I like some of the movies that he has done? Sure. Do I like him as an actor? Absolutely not. He ranks up there with Keanu Reeves and Angelina Jolie as actors that I simply cannot stand. I just don’t appreciate “actors” getting all of this money for doing something that a dish rag could do (which is my way of saying that I don’t see much range in acting choices with any of these “actors”).

Javert is my absolutely favorite character in this show, and it is probably my favorite role in all of musical theatre. I am completely mesmerized by the depth of this character. He has such a hard exterior, striving to do what is his understanding of right and wrong. He sees black and white. He was “born inside a jail.” There is more than we can immediately understand to Javert. He fascinates me. Plus, there have been some amazing actors that have portrayed him (most recently Norm Lewis in the 25th Anniversary Concert… amazing!!!!). The character of Lucius Malfoy has always reminded me of Javert, but Javert has the urge to do what was right, so much so that it caused him tunnel-vision.

Russell Crowe was, well, awful in this amazing role. He had no facial expressions or acting at all. His eyebrow rose up at one point in the movie. That was all. He couldn’t even sing. Why was he cast? Because he did a “good” job in “A Beautiful Mind” and “Gladiator?” Eh, debatable. I was not thrilled with his casting before I saw it, and I was even more upset by it afterwards. He was the worst.

4. Now, would I see this again?

Ok, yes, I had some big criticisms of the movie, but would I see it again? Absolutely! And then I would see it again. And again. And then by it on Blu-Ray. Will I pay $10+ to see it in the theater time and time? Probably not, but I could see buying a ticket again to see it once more in the theater. It is still my favorite musical and will always be my favorite musical. There were some things that I would love to see changed, but I still love that this amazing music and story is now frozen in time in movie form.

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One Response to Les Miserables Movie Review

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the smash 1985 musical is a beautifully gritty look at grace, poverty, redemption, and virtually every other human emotion in between. Solid review.

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