Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Miserables, Movie Review

"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!"

 Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars (would be more if it wasn't for the camera work.)

Les Miserables, aka The Miserable, based on the 1980 Paris/1985 West End musical, which was based on the 1865 Victor Hugo novel, takes place in France between 1815-1832, after the French Revolution.  A new King sits on the throne.

With that said, I'm a huge fan of the musical, having first seen it in 1996 with my 8th grade class, and it was an instant love affair, being the first professional play I've ever seen.  It was glorious, and this review will be taken from that perspective: a fan of the musical finally seeing it on the silver screen.


No one can argue how brilliant Anne Hathaway is in the role of Fantine; we've been hearing about it for months.  The crime would have been if she didn't meet expectations after all that hype.  She did meet them, and her performance was full of raw emotion.  Hugh Jackman was also brilliant, and I don't think Russell Crowe deserves the bad rap he's been getting.  Sure, his falsetto could use some work along with a couple rhythmic passages, but during the deeper melodic lines his tone was really quite nice.

The ensemble was fantastic, and I don't think they're getting the credit they deserve.  We've been hearing about Anne, but what about Eddie Redmayne as Marius?  His "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" was beautiful, and I love his duet with Eponine (Samantha Barks) "A Little Fall of Rain." (I was nervous the song didn't make the movie when I didn't see it as a track listing on the album.)  One of the downfalls of the 1998 Les Mis. movie was the absence of my favorite character Eponine, and to not have her here would have been a travisty.  Samantha didn't disappoint, and I loved her "On My Own." (The best song, bar none.  I'm biased towards it.)  The two children, Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Isabelle Allen as the young Cossette, both turned in very solid performances.

Surprisingly I was most impressed with Aaron Tvelt as Enjolras, who is one of Marius' friends.  His vocals were pure and strong.  He took a part that I usually don't pay attention to and made me notice and care for the character, albeit small.  All the singers during "Red and Black" were all quite good.

Conversion from Stage to Screen

Many aspects worked well on the big screen.  Where, on the stage, an actors performance is played big so that the whole audience can feel the emotion, the camera allows for subtle nuances to come through.  The singers voice can pull back a little to convey a line instead of project; this allowed for many wonderful moments on the screen.

What I had a hard time with was the camera work.  I was reading in Vogue how director Tom Hopper didn't know how he was going to transition a stage musical to the screen til Anne Hathaway's audition, thus the "close-up" was realized.  It works for her solo, as well as a couple of Jackman's pieces, but there were moments when I was craving sweeping wide-shots.  Some good cinematography!  Since all the singing was done live, with close-up hand-held cameras, those broader shots would have been more difficult.  And since Hopper would take the most solid performance over the most solid filmed scene, some really sloppy camera work made the final cut.  I swear I noticed the camera get bumped a couple times, especially by Jackman towards the beginning of the film.  And I believe the camera men stumbled a couple times as well.  
Overall I was quite pleased with Les Miserables.  Was it perfect?  No, but the message of the play came through.  That of redemption.  And it was nice seeing some of my most favorite musical theater pieces performed in such a grand way.

MPAA: Rated PG-13 For suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.  Not for the young.  There are moments brought to the screen that aren't so well emphasized in the play, depicting how horrible it was to live back then, etc.  How horrible it is to live in the slums.  We take things for granted.        


  1. I completely agree. For me personally, I would have liked a little less of the raw emotion and some stronger vocals, but no one has agreed with me on that. I also agree that some wider shots would have been great, and to your point of possibly being difficult due to the live vocals, I heard today on the broadway station on sirius that the actors were all wearing mics and they were taken out digitally in during post. So not sure that is the excuse for the close-ups. "Red and Black" was incredible. Anyway, great review.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, in terms of the vocals, I'm not downloading the album, even though it's only $5 on Amazon. Some of the songs were nice, but overall if I'm going to listen to it, I'll listen to the original Broadway cast, which I already own. The vocals make sense for the movie, but not for later listening pleasure.