Cinema Movie Review: Les Miserables (2012)

Russell_Crowe_Costume_Javert_Les_Miserables_Set_1332785871‘Shall his sins be forgiven? Shall his crimes be reprieved?’

And so, I can now die a happy man – not only was Skyfall (2012) released last year and is clearly the best Bond ever, 2013 has begun with the big-screen musical adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Cameron Mackintosh‘s amazing, world-beating show Les Miserables, with The King’s Speech (2010) director Tom Hooper at the helm. And…

…I have a confession to make, first up, and that is that I simply adore musicals. I have been made aware that there is apparently a Venn diagram that exists, which, taking some of my other tastes into consideration, such as horror films and fiction, would place me in the sociopath category, and I am not gay, but I cannot help it – musicals (a little like Woody Allen) divide the world squarely into them that do and them that don’t, and I am on the side of the angels. Watch it.

Anyway, it was at a cinema in London, while I was back in Blighty on business and decided I needed a night off, that I caught up with the film I have perhaps been awaiting with even more breathless anticipation than I was for Bond – you see, since around 1995, I have been a massive fan of the show, which is a peerless adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic, and have seen it on stage (London, Edinburgh, Sheffield and elsewhere) 25 (count ’em) times. It was actually the video of the special tenth anniversary of Les Miserables (it opened in 1985 to much critical carping, but what the hell did those critics know?) featuring the ‘dream cast’ (Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Philip Quast et al) that first drew me to Les Mis, before I went to see it for the first time on stage in Bristol, 1996.

Enough of my history, let’s talk about Valjean (Hugh Jackman). In 1815, convict number 24601 Jean-Valjean is released on parole by prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean was originally sentenced to five years for stealing a loaf of bread to save his sister’s starving child but, because of his repeated escape attempts, his sentence was increased to 19 years. Forced to carry a yellow ticket of leave, which casts him as a marked man who is thus unable to find work, he is nevertheless offered food and shelter by the saintly Bishop of Digne, but he steals his silver during the night. He is caught by the authorities, but the Bishop confirms Valjean’s story that the silver was given as a gift (‘You forgot I gave these also, would you leave the best behind?’), which ensures Valjean’s release. Horrified by what he has been reduced to, and awe-struck by the Bishop’s kindness, Valjean breaks his parole and vows to begin an honest life under a new identity. Javert swears he will bring the escaped convict to justice.

Of course, there is so much more to the story than the above, and Valjean’s road to redemption is long, tortuous and ever-winding. For those unfortunate souls out there who have not seen the stage show (around 80 million people worldwide have), now you have absolutely no excuse to miss out on an experience of a lifetime – when I heard that Hooper had decided not to post-synchronize the recorded vocals to lip movements, I was very much afraid that a total hash would be made of the job, as occured with Peter Bogdanovich’s disastrous musical At Long Last Love (1975), which also did not use post-synchronization.

I need not have worried – the beautifully powerful, haunting lyrics translate marvellously to the screen, sung direct to camera as they are, and the approach gives the film as a whole the immediacy and excitement of watching the show live. Very little more to be said, really, except that if Anne Hathaway does not get the 2013 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the tragic Fantine, whose child Cosette Valjean vows he will raise as a father, there is absolutely no justice. Forget ‘SuBo’ – I Dreamed A Dream, as sung by Hathaway, is the best version of the song that I have ever heard. Alright then, one more prediction to finish – I believe that Hooper’s incredible Les Miserables (2012) will be the first musical to lift the Best Picture gong since Chicago (2002). Definitely worth a flutter, but whatever you do, don’t miss out on seeing this, I implore you.

157 mins.

6 thoughts on “Cinema Movie Review: Les Miserables (2012)”

  1. I’ve just come back from watching the film and, having never seen the musical, had no idea what to expect. I’m not usually a fan of musicals (the exception being Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge) but I loved Les Miserables.

    I thought the constant singing would get on my nerves, as is usually the case with musicals, but in this case it didn’t. Instead it was handled with great aplomb and even the major numbers felt intimate and pleasing. Even the much-criticized Russell Crowe sounded okay to my untrained ear, although Hugh Jackman is clearly the better singer and, together with Anne Hathaway, stole the show for me.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the humanity of the story and quickly found myself genuinely captivated by every twist and turn. Not knowing what was coming meant the end caught me by surprise and it actually made me shed a tear – though the woman behind me was truly sobbing buckets. On initial reflection, it was the emotional and human connection which worked so well; a story about love, forgiveness, sacrifice, hope, loss, faith and revolution handled and presented brilliantly.

    An appropriately doffed cap to Tom Hooper and all involved.

  2. Hi Jona,

    A very warm welcome to Picturenose, for what is, I believe, your first formal comment! 🙂

    Chris, Colin, kindly take note – this is exactly how a comment should be written about a film, any film, that I love. Note how Jona very wisely agrees with my review completely, and only adds to the pleasure with his intelligent, articulate and pithy commentary. 😉

    Droll humour aside, Jona, many thanks indeed – and I found myself in real tears around five times in the film, beginning with Hathaway’s simply sublime rendition of I Dreamed A Dream. I agree with you too about Russell Crowe – I thought he was excellent as Javert and, while a couple of his numbers (particularly Stars) do not have quite the impact they do on the stage, his decision to genuinely act the role as well as sing paid off in spades. Thanks again, hpoe to hear more from you soon. 🙂

  3. Enjoyed the film a lot, apart from some very insistent blubbing to my left hand side. It is two-and-a-half hours long, so I was a bit worried that my interest would wane, but Tom Hooper keeps the action going at a great pace, so much so that I think that some slower, more contemplative pauses could be allowed – but then I suppose we are lucky that the producers didn’t cut it further.

    A big concern I had was the singing. Some clips I had heard had very American style intonation, while this happens it only happens a little. I was also worried that other critics would be right and the ‘live’ singing wouldn’t work. It did work, it worked very well indeed and it very much added to the dramatic effect. The songs are largely sung in close-up, which for the most part works, but occasionally I wished the camera would back off a bit.

    I’m not familiar with the musical, but in the book Fantine’s two front teeth are removed – now I realise that this makes it difficult to sing but still, removing a couple of molars isn’t the same thing at all.

    The young Cosette and Gavroche also play their roles with aplomb. The Castle on a Cloud song can be a little cloying, but it is better in the film, maybe because it isn’t in a theatre and doesn’t have to be belted out. Gavroche is also played without sentiment.

    I always like to think of alternative castings, so for the remake I suggest Michael Fassbender/Clive Owen as Jean Valjean – I hope they can sing; a younger Kate Winslet or Anne-Marie Duff as Fantine; a living Rod Steiger as Javert, or alternatively Clive Owen; and a young Leonardo Di Caprio as Marius.

    So a very enjoyable film – it would be a pity if Anne Hathaway is the only one to win an Oscar.

  4. Well here I am finally, to leave my comments as promised, sorry for the lateness. I saw Les Miserables back in 1995 in New York, and fell in love with it. For me, nothing could ever match it. Well, after I read your review James I became more than tempted to watch this version, so I finally did and *wow*, it was just amazing in its own right.

    Great performances but some amazing actors and the singing was spot on, I once again had goose bumps all up my spine. Loved the film, so thank you so much James, as if it were not for your review I wouldn’t have even given it a chance. Anyone who loves musicals and enjoys a bit of history and a classic story watch it, you won’t regret it. 🙂

  5. Hi Sarah-Jane, thanks so much for your comment and welcome to Picturenose! 🙂 *Really* happy that you enjoyed the film as much as you did – it truly is a belter, is it not? I have it on DVD now, but I am not going to over-watch it, so it will always be special. Who gave the film’s best all-round performance, do you think? Thanks again. 🙂

  6. An incredibly well done movie. They spared no expense in making the experiences of the destitute characters feel and appear real (almost ironically). I would suggest it to all who can bear listening to two-and-a-half hours of (well-done) music. It is a magnificent representation of the human spirit.

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