[Review] Les Misérables

Gladiator. While watching Les Misérables last week I lost count of the times I said to myself: “I haven’t seen Gladiator for ages! I’m well overdue a re-watch.”

If you think this sounds like I was distracted, then you’d be right in thinking so. This was my first experience of Victor Hugo’s historical novel and I am definitely not a fan. Perhaps I’ll read the novel or watch the stage show, but I wouldn’t have thought this would any time soon…

les-miserables-poster-2Les Misérables (2012)

Dir: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

Going back to Hooper’s adaptation, I have to echo the thoughts of some of the other reviews and say that it gives both too much and too little.

Kicking off with the positive aspects, Les Misérables is visually stunning. To my untrained eye, it looks to me that it has been edited in such a way that the colours are deeper and more luxurious. No bright colours have been used in the characters’ costumes or the backdrop, but that doesn’t make the film appear muted. Instead, it has a rich finish. The opening scene in particular, where Valjean (Jackman) is seen pulling en masse a giant ship into the harbour, is very dramatic and looks brilliant.

Similarly, the costumes are gorgeous, and Paco Delgado’s Oscar nomination for Costume Design is very well deserved. I thought that Crowe’s Javert looked suitably imposing as we see him rise through the ranks from prison guard to inspector. Valjean undergoes quite the transformation too, with his impressive facial going deserving a nomination of its own!

She'll have you crying into your tissues in no time: Eponine (Samantha Barks).
She’ll have you crying into your tissues in no time: Eponine (Samantha Barks).

Praise must also go to the vocal talents of all those involved, especially Samantha Barks (the destitute Eponine) who broke my heart with her haunting rendition of ‘On My Own’ and Aaron Tveit with his portrayal of the charismatic revolutionary student Enjorlas. Somewhat unsurprisingly, both Barks and Tveit are seasoned performers, with Barks performing as Eponine in the West End in 2010-2011 and Tveit making his Broadway debut in 2006.

That isn’t to say that Jackman, Crowe, Hathaway and co offended my ears. Like many other cinema goers, I was eagerly awaiting Crowe’s performance the most as I hadn’t heard him sing before and associate him more as an action star than a singer. I might be in the minority, but I thoroughly enjoyed Crowe’s singing and looked forward to the next scene that he was in. I’m not one for the schmaltzy love stuff, as you’ll read later…

Recording the songs live was always going to be a challenge, but I think that it certainly gave the raw edge that Hooper desired. Hathaway and Barks’ performances in particular had that unedited quality, but the songs that I am thinking of, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘On My Own’ respectively, particularly lend themselves to that crying-into-your-tissue style. Saying that, however, all the songs that are sung should come from the heart, and that would be my only criticism of Crowe, that sometimes his voice was very weak and the numbers lacked power.

My man of the movie: Russell Crowe's Javert.
My man of the movie: Russell Crowe’s Javert.

Moving on to the negative, my largest complaint is with the story, in that it didn’t stir any emotion at all within me, which I wasn’t expecting at all. In some reviews I’ve taken a quick glance at they’ve said that it is the fans of the stage show who have got the most out of Hooper’s adaptation. I wonder if it’ll work for me the other way around, I’ll get more out of the stage show (if I decide to subject myself to it in 10 years time) after seeing Les Misérables?

I just couldn’t connect with any of the characters and found myself disinterested in what was happening/would happen to them. Well, I enjoyed Javert and Valjean’s bitter fight but the revolution and Cosette and Marius’ burgeoning relationship got in the way of that, and added an extra 90 minutes or so in the process… There was little information about which revolution was actually being depicted and Cosette and Marius’ deep, brooding romance was laughable. You can excuse characters falling in love after just meeting in a Disney film but in this? It’s incredibly doubtful.

★★★

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2 thoughts on “[Review] Les Misérables”

  1. Nice review Claire. Love the callout of the “love at first sight” ploy used in the film. all seemed a bit too easy. Ultimately, I still was connected to Valjean’s story, and Fantine’s was pretty moving to me. But I think I still was moved more by the trailer than by the film itself.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

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