Les Misérables is one of the most powerful stories of all time in my opinion. Victor Hugo’s book painted a tale so powerful and epic that it’s moved millions of people across the world. The award-winning musical is arguably the best musical of all time, and without question one of the most heart-touching stories to ever hit the stage. The 1998 film, even though backed by an amazing assemble, not only lacked the soundtrack so many fans urned for – but it lacked a number of other key elements… like Éponine… and the actual correct ending. You can’t cut this story short or add to it. There’s no need.
With all of this being said, most of the work was already done for the latest film version of Les Misérables, so high expectations are being held by fans all across the world in anticipation of today’s release of the musical phenomenon. Lower your expectations. Tom Hooper may have it hit on the nail with his last project, The King’s Speech, but Les Misérables falls short in so many painful ways.
For those of you that haven’t seen the musical or read Victor Hugo’s novel, the story sets itself against the backdrop of 19th century France. The film’s name translates to “The Miserable”, and that’s exactly what these characters are. Broken dreams and broken hearts have left these individuals without much hope, yet they’re still trying to survive in hopes of having something better. It truly is a testament to the survival of the human spirit.
Les Misérables has a number of plots but centers on an ex-convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who tries to escape his dark past by becoming a force of good in the world. However, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is always one step behind him eager to bring him to justice for breaking his parole. As the years pass, and Valjean manages to remain uncaptured, we see the lives of everyone he comes into contact with and the struggles that they are facing. At its core, Les Misérables tells a story of love, emphasizing to the audience that to “love another person is to see the face of God.”
So where does the film go wrong? The first noticeable is issue is the way the film is actually shot. From weird camera angles, to filming nearly all the musical numbers in close-up, to an obsession with the rule of thirds (breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts) which ends up making the film feel off-balanced, to quick edits that feel unfinished and sloppy, and then there are even a few scenes where the cast sings directly into the camera – only a few though – which chops of the ability for you to get lost in the amazing performances.
And those amazing performances are sadly only done by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway (who plays Fantine – and won the Oscar for her role). In fact, I would go so far as to say that Hathaway’s “I Dreamed A Dream” was the most moving female performance I’ve ever seen in a film. She posed such power and emotion in this scene that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Academy Award for Best Actress was her’s for the taking.
Hugh Jackman also poured his sole into the role of Jean Valjean. Making him not only the most attractive man to ever play Valjean, but also one of the best voices – comparable even to Colm Wilkinson from the 10th anniversary performance. Truly incredible performance filled with the passion and love that Valjean should contain.
Passion, however, was sorely lacking from the role of Javert, which Russell Crowe butchered. Crowe actually managed to sing better than I anticipated, but there was no feeling to his voice, and as soon as his mouth opened it was as if he forgot how to act – perhaps concentrating too much on staying in key.
Amanda Seyfried gets lost a bit among the bigger talents in the film, but I would argue this also happens in the musical. We all feel for young Cosette, but as the years pass and we met the adult Cosette – our attention shifts more to Éponine. Samantha Barks is no stranger to the role of Éponine. She performed with Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary in 2010, wowing people even then with her incredible performance of “On My Own.” She brings her the full range of her vocal talent to this production as well.
Eddie Redmayne gives a decent performance as Marius, but he doesn’t wow audiences with anything truly memorable. What should have been the highlight of his performance, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” lacked the feeling of authenticity that we’ve seen with the stage version. While he has the love-sick puppy look down perfectly, it would have been great to see him really emotionally dive into this scene the way that Hathaway did at the beginning of the film.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were just as you would expect them to be in the roles of the Thénardiers – wonderfully quirky and odd. The extra moments of laughter that Cohen contributed to (and I assumed improvised) were the only moments that seemed to add in a positive way to what that the book and musical hadn’t previously offered fans.
Speaking of elements that the book or play hadn’t previous offered fans, I’m not sure whose idea it was to have all the dialogue between the songs sung in and operatic style, but that person should not have been allowed anywhere near this project. All of these exchanges are awful and awkward. They ultimately try too hard to sync themselves with one of the other beloved melodies from the musical. The end result is just something that will make you cringe. A great example is the conversational exchange towards the beginning of the film when Javert and Jean Valjean first meet after all those years apart.
DVD extras include feature commentary with director Tom Hooper and a number of featurettes such as “Les Misérables on Locaiton”, “Battle at the Barricade”, “Les Misérables Singing Live”, and more. The extras make this a solid DVD release if you were a fan of the film, and even if you enjoyed the film but desired a bit more (such as myself).
All in all, it’s Les Misérables. It’s still the greatest story ever told in my opinion. However, this film just tries to make you as miserable as its characters in trying to take artistic license with something that should be kept in the classic form we all know and love. If you’re a casual fan of Les Misérables, you’ll probably like this flick. If you’re a die-hard fan like me that has read the book 4 times and seen the musical 8 times, then you’re probably going to want to punch someone after you see this. They had such an incredible opportunity to do something epic and memorable (the cast even sang 99% of this film live – no going back and re-recording in the studio- that’s amazing!!). However, this film will not do the story and the musical justice for the hardcore Les Misérables fans out there – much like the 98′ version, this attempt gives it a solid effort – but still ultimately falls short. Maybe Hollywood will give this another attempt in 15 years and finally get it right.
Review By: Emma Loggins