Les Misérables – Review (Spoiler Free)

Les Misérables PosterIt may not be exactly subtle, but Les Misérables does deliver as an emotionally charged, epically scaled version of the stage show, and one which should satisfy its fans, even if it will struggle to win over too many newcomers. I think it’s fair to say that every performer gives it their all here, some are notably better than others with Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks and Hugh Jackman being the standout members of the cast. Hathaway and Barks also provide the film with its two most powerful songs, with ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘On my Own’ respectively. However it is Jackman who surprised me most. I hadn’t experienced him acting at this level before and he took me completely by surprise. Every moment he is on screen he delivers a powerful and emotional performance, and although the constant onslaught of emotional turmoil could potentially harm many performances, Jackman comes out of it looking pretty good.

Russell Crowe is the one who has been picked on the most by reviewers, and fair enough, he has possibly the weakest voice out of the ensemble and does struggle through a few moments. But he clearly is working hard throughout the piece, he gives his role the power that it demands, and by the end I was sufficiently affected by his performance as to let him off the hook. As a friend of mine remarked; ‘The people who claim Crowe gives a terrible performance, clearly have forgotten Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia’, and they’re right. There’s nothing awful about Crowe here.

The film makes the most of doing the one thing which the stage show cannot, and that’s push you up close and in the face of the performers. This technique has its fair share of detractors, and I’m caught somewhere in-between criticising it and praising it. There’s no doubt that it’s effective during Hathaway’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, when having her fill the screen somehow makes it all the more heartbreaking, and if Hooper had been a little braver and mixed things up then this technique could have been great. As it is though it loses its power after being used for every single song, and although it’s slightly frustrating that it is so overused, it didn’t distract me during the film.

The rest of the cast includes Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the essential and very effective comic relief, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as his friend and leader of the rebellion Enjolras, and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. They all play their roles just fine, and I have nothing against any of them, but they don’t reach the heights set by Jackman, Hathaway, and Barks. And that’s fairly representative of the film as a whole; there are definite highlights which are pretty impressive, but they are few and are between. The rest is good but there are occasional moments which could have been improved upon. Overall though Les Misérables does exactly what you expect it to; it heaps emotionally manipulating event on top of emotionally manipulating event in an attempt to make you cry, it swells and soars with the songs, and it delivers a satisfying if not perfect film version of the fantastic stage show. Hooper’s direction is fairly easy to criticise, but it should also be noted that he took on a very challenging task and largely pulled it off – and that alone is pretty impressive.

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36 comments

  1. Excellent review, I need to see this after hearing all the buzz surrounding it.

    1. Cheers man, I hope you enjoy it. It certainly divides opinions but I liked it!

      1. I finally managed to see this the other night, and I recently reviewed on my blog if you’re interested.

        1. Great – I’ll be over there shortly!

  2. Nice review. I had an overall luke warm opinion of the film but I enjoyed it. I also agree that Crowe wasn’t as bad as most people said.

    1. Glad that we agree about Crowe! I think I enjoyed it more than I normally would have because of the negative reviews going around. As a fan of the stage show I had lowered my expectations considerably after hearing them, and so for it to deliver as well as it did was a huge relief. Have you seen the show?

      1. I’ve never seen the show or even a movie adaptation before so this was my first time I experiencing it.

        1. Ah, well the show is better – although I don’t know that you would like it too much more than the film. It’s perhaps not different enough to cause a large change of opinion.

          I haven’t seen any other film versions, although I would like to just so that I can make a comparison. The one with Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman, Geoffrey Rush and Clare Danes could be interesting.

  3. Natalie P · · Reply

    I would definitely agree with your friend, Crowe’s singing is not perfect, but is effective and his stage presence makes up for any lack in singing ability. His final scene is quite moving, and this is a combination of both singing and acting.
    I also thought that the long periods of time spent showing actors’ faces could have been cut down, while this is something that film can provide over theater, it did feel somewhat alienating at times.
    What moments would you have improved?
    You haven’t discussed much about the other songs and music, what did you think of them? Did you think the singing live while shooting the film improved the performances at all?
    Great review 🙂

    1. Thanks Natalie 😀

      I thought that all the songs were done pretty well actually, there weren’t any that stood out as bad to me. It’s hard to say about the live singing, knowing that that technique was used leads me to praise it for the enhanced performances that were given, but in truth I don’t know whether it would have suffered from a studio recording. It’s impossible to say. I do however like the idea, that it allows the actors to react in the moment etc. I can certainly say that it didn’t backfire at all, there weren’t any observable moments that somehow suffered from this technique being used!

      I wish that a little more chemistry could have been built between Redmayne and Seyfried, that fairytale instant romance bugs me a little, but given how long the film already is no more scenes could be added. I guess I would have liked the actors to have clicked a little better then. What about you? Was there anything that you would have changed?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      1. Natalie P · · Reply

        I would agree, I’m not sure whether it makes that much difference whether the actors sing on set or not. The songs do seem more powerful in this film than in recent musicals, but that might be because Les Mis is a more serious musical than Footloose, for example.
        The fairy tale romance does seem somewhat unbelievable, but I think it’s easy to forget that Marius is only really a child in the world (and a privileged one at that) because of his acts in the rebellion, so it’s quite possible for an idealised attraction to form between two such naive people. I don’t know whether it can be portrayed as ‘true love’ or not, do we feel that when the film ends such a relationship would really work? The two actors could definitely have shown more chemistry but Cosette’s (as an adult) role is so small that we hardly have a chance to get to know her.
        I would have preferred to see more of the performances, other than just their faces but I did think the film was excellent so I’m unsure of what I might have changed.
        Do you think it will achieve/deserve Oscars?

        1. You’re right about Marius and the naivety factor. I’m not sure about the relationship, I was going to say that when their lives become tougher it may struggle, but then it did get through the events in the film unscathed so maybe not…

          Hathaway and Jackman would be deserving wins, although they are up against some tough competition, and I don’t necessarily know that I would pick Jackman myself, although he is a very good choice! Hathaway should take it however. It would be unfair if Les Misérables wins one for best picture though, it’s good but not that good. 🙂

          1. Natalie P · ·

            I definitely think Hathaway deserves to win, I’m unsure about the others – but Les Mis is the only one of the bigger nominations that I’ve seen so I can’t really make a judgement 🙂

    2. Fair enough. It would be good to see her win, she has had a great year what with this and The Dark Knight Rises!

  4. Excellent review! I really was surprised by Samantha Barks.

    1. Cheers! I was already a fan of her having seen the TV programme which got her her big break. Although I haven’t seen her in the role on stage.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. Great review man. I pretty much hated this movie though. There’s a reason why they call it Les Miserables. Every scene had someone crying in it…. for 3 hours. uggggh.

    1. Cheers 😀 It certainly isn’t the feel good film of the year that’s for sure! I can understand why the constant tears turns you off, it’s all a little bit much. But then I’m a fan of the show and so I guess I expected that going in!

  6. Great review Rumsey. Let this be an educational resource for future generations. Take note, producers, and learn from the mistakes of Rock of Ages and the accomplishments of Les Miserables.

    1. Thanks man! It certainly is one of the best musicals to have come out in quite some time, then again though it wouldn’t make it into my top five. How do you rank it compared to some of your other favourite musicals?

  7. Yeah, you may have a point that this isnt going to win over any newcomers, Rumsey. I’m case in point. LOL. I liked it well enough I guess, but mainly because Jackman and Hathaway were so great. The rest? I could take it or leave it… 😦

    1. Haha, fair enough 🙂
      No love for Barks? I hear you on Jackman and Hathaway obviously, but I thought that she delivered as well as they did.
      Did you not take to anything but those two? The songs?

  8. Very fair review, I know what you mean about the overuse of up close shots, I think it was missing the big production scenes you would see on the stage.

    1. Thank you, it did feel a little restrained in that regard at times. Are you a fan of the stage show then?

      1. I haven’t seen it so I was looking forward to seeing some big numbers!

        1. Ah right, well the show is better than the film in my opinion. If you get the chance you should definitely see the musical 😀

  9. Nice review mate. I’m one of the anti-Crowe posse, I’m afraid. I’m a huge fan of the musical and he just doesn’t have the power that the role demands. He should be intimidating but his vocals are just too weak to portray that. I wouldn’t say it’s an abomination but just reckon it’s a weak point of the film. I did think this was a great adaptation of the stage show, however, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks 🙂
      Well I can certainly understand where you are coming from, he is a weak point and it’s a shame that they didn’t get somebody with a stronger voice, considering the star power already in the film they could have gone more obscure here. Still, I feel the need to defend him against the heavy criticisms he’s received. He’s not great, but then again as you say he’s not an abomination either and I ended up liking him well enough.
      Glad that on the whole this adaptation worked for you as well. I was so relieved that they did as well as they did 😀

  10. Great review! I was impressed when I learned the cast sang live to camera instead of using a prerecorded track. I haven’t watched it yet, but might check it out on DVD.

    1. Cheers! It would be worth catching then just to see what all the fuss is about and which side you fall on!

  11. Perfect review! Well done.

    1. Cheers man! 😀

  12. Just shared this man, let me know what happens in your stats 😉

    1. Thanks man, I’ll keep an eye on them 🙂

  13. Jackman surprised me too, if it wasn’t for his performance I’d leave after 30 minutes of this. I hated the movie and Hathaway’s self aware performance, Crowe was actually pretty good for me the biggest mistake and miscast was Redmayne.

    1. Shame that you disliked the movie and Hathaway.
      Well, I say that the biggest miscasting is Crowe but Redmayne would be second. Having said that I think Crowe gave the better performance, despite being ill-suited for the role. Did you like Crowe’s voice? Or was it for other reasons that you thought he was good?

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