LES MISERASBLES Review

Les Miserables is impressive. There is no doubt of this in anyone's mind who wanders out of the theater awestruck by the onslaught of grandiose that Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) has included in his screen adaptation of the extremely popular stage musical which is in itself an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel. Personally, I was not familiar with the original Hugo novel on which the story comes from but was lucky enough to have seen the stage play a few years back. I was entranced by the play, not fully knowing what to expect but understanding what was likely going to take place. I was mentally prepared to be bored, to check my watch every now and then or maybe even drown out the noise as people singing sentences rather than speaking them tends more to annoy than to inspire. Yet, all of that changed when the curtain came up and the dynamics of the story were introduced and the audience was made to root for this most genuine of human beings who was dealt a rough hand in life, but overcame. It was stunning to say the least, and I was grateful to have experienced it. For this reason, I was looking forward to the film. It is a great idea, a grand one; to take such an epic piece of work and apply it to the platform of cinema with huge movie stars and a grounded yet sweeping scale to it. The film succeeds in many ways and still it did not leave me completely satisfied. The sets are beautiful as is the cinematography. I am a fan of the way Hooper decided to shoot the film and for the most part enjoyed the performances of the star studded cast. It is a movie to be marveled at but more times than not I found myself admiring more than connecting.

Russell Crowe in Tom Hooper's film adaptation of Les Miserables.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Les Miserables it is ultimately one mans tale though several other factors are thrown in for good measure. It contains a little bit of everything, this is true, but when the final note is sung you indeed realize how much it is Jean Valjean's tale. The French title can be translated many ways but The Poor Ones is what always stuck with me and re-enforced the main ideas of the story even if we still refer to it with its French title. The film spans seventeen years and follows the lives of several different characters but its main focus is that of Valjean, played here by the wonderful Hugh Jackman, and how he tries countless times to redeem himself as he is an ex-convict who faces many struggles in becoming a respected man. In the process of building a sterling reputation Valjean violates his parole and becomes a new man entirely. This, along with some help from a sympathetic priest, allows him the opportunity to become a wealthy business owner. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who was an adjutant guard at the Bagne of Toulon during Valjean's incarceration seems to see through this facade and becomes determined to bring this ex-convict to justice. At one of the factory's Valjean owns a woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is fired due to nothing more than the dislike of the co-working women around her. Fantine is desperately trying to support her daughter and must resort to selling her teeth, her hair and her body. This leads to a confrontation in which Javert decides to send the fragile woman to prison, yet Valjean prevails in rescuing Fantine as he feels responsible seeing as his factory is the one that turned her away. This all to lead to Valjean rescuing the child after he promises her dying mother she shall never want for nothing. To truly redeem himself he feels it necessary to watch over and protect the Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) all his life, even through avoiding Javert, the June Rebellion and the more daunting process of letting her become a woman who falls in love.

Though all of this seems much to take in, there has been such ample opportunity to tell this story before that it is ripe with reference and Hooper has certainly taken advantage of such an unusual commodity and allowed the information we need to be fed to us in a smooth, easy to understand way. That isn't to say his pacing couldn't use a bit of fine tuning; at two hours and forty minutes the film certainly feels like a burden at several points throughout. This is unabashedly a musical though and it knows what it is in every over the top aspect. Whether it be in the consistent singing of nearly every line of dialogue (which you should know going in, but just in case, be prepared) or the committed yet sometimes underwhelming performances of the cast in major and minor roles. The first half of the film is a great movie. Simple as that. As we watch Jackman portray this part he seems born to play we are taken into this mans soul, we understand his motivations and his drive that justifies every action he makes for the duration of the film. Even Crowe, who has been criticized for his chops, actually does a fine job at presenting his character and defining why he is the man with such strong convictions. Javert can easily be a one dimensional character, but we all know Crowe is a fine actor and he brings his A-game here and gives us a fully fleshed out man that is hesitant to go against tradition, against what he has always been taught yet knows he will be damned if he continues to deny change. As much as we feel the pain and struggle of Valjean we feel the inner conflict of Javert. And sure, his singing isn't the best, but it isn't as unbearable as you might have heard either.

Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter) and Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen)
neglect young Cosette (Isabelle Allen). 
The one that steals the show though, the one whom lifts that first half of the film into its other worldly stratosphere is that of the lovely Anne Hathaway. In her short time on screen she makes us feels mountains more emotions than her eventual offspring could ever hope to offer. As the camera holds on her and stays in a single shot as Hathaway's Fantine is broken down to the lowest type of person one could ever hope to be we don't just feel the heartbreak in her voice we hear her disappointment with life and the longing for it to simply be over. She would love for life to allow her the opportunity to raise her daughter and find that moment again when "men were kind, there voices were soft, and their words were inviting. A time when love was blind," but she is hard pressed to believe any good could come from her life continuing. The technique Hooper uses of not pre-recording his actors vocals but instead having them wear an earpiece to hear the accompanying music allowing them to sing live and to inject more of their character more of their raw emotion into their voice, into their singing works to its full potential here. It is truly awe-inspiring and a moment you will find hard to shake even after Fantine is all but forgotten in the world of these characters.

The second half of the film, usually bringing full circle an uplifting story of love conquering rather than the disappointment of the first act is what instead pulls the story down with the film version. Though I admire Eddie Redmayne as an actor here, and he does extremely well for having never been a classically trained singer he is given no room to breathe as a character. Marius is simply a young boy hoping to make a difference that falls in love with a girl upon first sight. This girl, an older Cosette is equally uninteresting. Their love story should be the backbone of the latter half of any presentation of this story but instead it is overlooked here and pushed to the side in order to make room for the more elaborately staged revolution pieces. These are thrilling, and the young actors taking part provide plenty of gusto, especially Aaron Tveit as Enjolras and Samantha Barks as Eponine who displays why she was rewarded the role after portraying the role in the stage play. Barks is a natural and though she gets only a limited time to show her true worth she both exceeds her young, more known co-stars, in that short space both in terms of singing and acting. She is a character who, like Valjean was not dealt the easiest hand in life given she has Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter for parents (both of which provide plenty of comic relief in their scene-stealing appearances) and longs for the love of Marius but is overlooked for the more obvious option. It would be easy to take the road most traveled for Eponine, but instead her character takes the high road and Barks allows us to appreciate that humanity all the more with her portrayal.

Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) fall for one another instantly.
There is easily so much more one could say about this film as I truly do admire it. Many will complain about Hooper's over use of the dutch angle, but there is a reason for this cinematic technique in that it stays static and presents an uneasiness with the situation or character in which it captures. There is a tension to the style and the extreme close-ups on each individual character allow us not simply a better look at their complexion but it allows us an experience we would never be able to have watching the stage production. While this is a grand film it is also an extremely intimate portrait that in many ways redefines the movie musical. It is a sweeping story with an equally impressive look. It is as uplifting as it is devastating and it more times than not will have you yearning for just a little bit more from each number that Jackman, Hathaway, Carter and Cohen as well as Barks put on for us. I can't say that I adored the film or even that I loved it unconditionally because there are several flaws I had with the movie throughout. Still, these small even irrelevant complaints cannot take away from the overall effect the film will have on you as the stirring final song is sung before it cuts to the credits. You can deny aesthetics all you want, though Hooper's Les Mis is a wonderfully beautiful ode to the stage play and Hugo's novel, but the emotion brought through at certain moments in the film is what counts and even if it isn't wholly consistent it is the moments it does reach those heights of cutting feeling that you will remember why audiences fall in love with this story and presentation over and over again.