- Starring: Hugh Jackman (The Prestige), Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), Russell Crowe (Master & Commander) and more.
- Directed by: Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
- Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption–a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
- Must-Watch Trailer:
This classic musical, a story of redemption, is so beautifully told once again by Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper. Before I go into my review, let me share with you a couple of things:
1. Once I learned about Les Misérables coming to theaters, I realized I had never seen any version of the story before, nor had I read it! So, I decided at that point in time to let THIS movie be the FIRST introduction to Les Misérables for me.
2. Director Tom Hooper gave a fantastic 9-min interview about the film on NPR last week that I listened to. It’s really worth checking out and you can listen to it in its entirety here.
The following are my thoughts on this great tale from the perspective of someone who just finished watching the story for the very first time (might I add, I’m glad that it could be THIS 2 hour and 29 minute version that introduced me to the beauty that is Les Misérables!)
Director Tom Hooper very beautifully portrays 19th century France and sets the stage from the beginning. As the story unfolds, which takes place amid revolution and unrest among the people of France, the journey of ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman) is one that binds itself to the viewer as he fights to find meaning and redemption in his life. Hooper combines fantastic camerawork (he provides several countless closeups capturing the emotion and tone of the characters and their plights) with moving music and an impressive cast in this timeless and beautiful Victor Hugo novel brought to film.
Broadway lover/performer Hugh Jackman leads the musical members of the cast as we follow his character’s search for redemption. But it is not he alone who gives a memorable performance. (And that, I think, is definitely an appropriate word to describe each of the performances in this film: “memorable.”) Anne Hathaway’s moving performance as Fantine, the forlorn mother who finds herself lower than she ever thought she’d go, will undoubtedly move many to tears. I almost cried myself. (I suspect she will receive an Oscar nod in this upcoming award season.) The rest of the cast also impresses with the likes of Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen (in a role I actually appreciate him in as opposed to Borat, The Dictator, etc) Helena Bonham Carter, Isabelle Allen, newcomer Samantha Barks and more. Bravo to Hooper for acquiring a flawless cast to tell this gripping human story.
It is a musical. I think it is important to point this obvious aspect out, because some people who go may appreciate the venue of storytelling but also find themselves losing interest as the songs continue. As opposed to most musicals where dialogue and story are both interrupted by timely parenthetical songs that tend to transport the audience out of the story temporarily and then end and it’s “life as normal,” Hooper chooses to create a world in which conversations through song is the main manner of human communication and where the spoken word serves as the “interruption” if you will. Les Misérables contains very little dialogue which keeps the audience in the attitude of the story, but can also be a little offsetting to some who do not frequent musicals or are not fans of the genre in general. I found it to be beautiful, though listening to a couple of lines sung here and there did make me chuckle.
The cast and crew went through so much to make this film. From weightloss to unseemly haircuts to hours of vocal training/practice, the work they did pays off and makes Les Misérables a very wonderful film. The “live singing” adds a whole other element that brings the dramatic situations to life and makes the emotion alive. Learn all about that in this amazing featurette here:
Themes of redemption, triumph, the human spirit, loss, self-worth/righteousness and more permeate the tale and therewith give it something for everyone to relate to. Each character represents some aspect of humanity and the trials faced in life. Hooper excels in making the characters of the novel “real” to the audience through his direction.
However, is it “Best Picture” worthy though? I don’t believe so. Though the performances are strong, some are a bit over the top making the film fluctuate between seeming like a film production and a play/broadway production (if that makes any sense at all). It’s a small complaint, I know, but it doesn’t fully commit to either. Truthfully, I was moved more by the trailer than by any single performance in the actual film.
It is definitely a film that I enjoyed and loved. I understand all the love for this story and why it received standing ovations in its first few showings in the nation. I applaud the cast and crew in their fantastic work of making revolutionist France alive. Though I went in with great expectations, it only barely did not meet them. Go see Les Misérables on Christmas Day.
Score: 4 out of 5 stars for Les Misérables (or perhaps a 4.24601 out of 5…some of you will get that reference!) 🙂
Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!
(this post is dedicated to my kid sister, Taylor, who has been so excited to see it. I love you, Taylor.)
–T, The Focused Filmographer