A detailed review of Les Miserables


Bravo!  Le Misérables is an excellent film.  One needn’t know much about history of the French Revolution to follow the story line.  Bravo to Kirksville for turning out a full audience for this exceptional film.  It was refreshing to see so many people there.  Many people, including me, have seen the staged version of this musical, and to be sure, it is most impressive.  The sets are impressive, and the music is outstanding. Of course, Victor Hugo gave us a magnificent story built around the French Revolution that certainly lends well to the various versions that have been filmed.  According to the International Music Data Base, (IMDB.com), there have been four versions of this masterful historic novel adapted for film. 

This version is called a musical, but because it is sung from start to finish, it qualifies as a modern day opera in my view.  People are frightened off by such a label, which is possibly the reason it is not advertised as such.

I have read that the singing was filmed live, rather than done in the studio and the “lip synced” for the filming.  That in itself is a pretty amazing feat.  The movie is nominated as best picture for the coming Golden Globe Awards.

The star of this movie is Hugh Jackman playing Jean Valjean.  His singing is superb, his acting is flawless and he brings to the screen a genuine energy that allows the audience to easily suspend their disbelief and made me feel as though I was witnessing the beginning of the French Revolution.  Jackman is the star, not just because his part is the central character, but it would be pretty difficult to find anyone who is a better singer and actor for such a film.  He has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best actor.  If he doesn’t win that award, I hope I don’t miss the performance that edges him out.

Anne Hathaway, known for her variety of movie roles such as “The Princess Diaries,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Get Smart” and “Rachel Getting Married,” plays the part of Fantine.  She has already been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best supporting actress for this performance.  It’s not a huge part, but the energy and visceral performance makes her a good bet to win this award as well. 

Russell Crowe plays the antagonist, Javert.  An officer in the French Military, he enforces the laws that eventually lead to the revolution partly due to unfair treatment of the working class.  Crowe is impressive in his films and a good actor.  He was less convincing when he sang.  There’s nothing wrong with his voice, but he just lost some of his swagger when he sang and seems less deliberate in general. Part of the problem was his stylized singing that he seemed to borrow from popular ballads but out of place for this setting.  Striking in his military apparel, he contrasted markedly to the disheveled look of the instigators of the revolution, and he was much stronger in some scenes than in others.  When the music called for him to sing in his upper register, it fell short of the power he otherwise demonstrated.

Sacha Baron Cohen played the role of the sleazy con artist, Thénardier.  He was matched with Helen Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier.  Together they made a believable pair and provided a bit of comic relief, while adding significantly to the plot.  It was easy to forget that these two actors were anyone other than the people they played.

Eddie Redmayne played Marius, who becomes the love interest of Cossette, the daughter of Hathaway’s character, who is eventually taken in by Jackman’s character.  Remayne’s singing is outstanding and his emotional portrayal of both suitor for Cossette and unlikely rebel siding with the revolution in spite of his wealthy upbringing really moving.

Eponine, who grew up with Cossette, is in love with Marius, but serves as his only contact to Cossette.  Her singing is probably the most pleasant female singing in the film.  It is important, however, to note that beautiful singing was not the aim of this film, and it was much more believable to see these actors like Anne Hathaway twenty-five pounds lighter than her usual slender enough silhouette. Classic faces covered in mud and blemishes left visible also helped make the movie seem more believable.  The French Revolution was not a beautiful time in that country’s history.

Cossette is portrayed as a child and as an adult.  The child is played admirably by Isabelle Allen.  Amanda Seyfried plays the young adult woman less effectively.  This character would have profited from better singing, but stridence made it seem less in character with the treatment Cossette enjoyed under Jean Valjean’s protection.  Hathaway’s singing used the same strident tone to effectively wring every drop of emotion available from her role.  The role of Cossette as a grown woman did not warrant the ragged singing and actually provided a spot in the movie where lovely and well sung music would have been not only appropriate, but welcomed.  It’s interesting that Jackman sang beautifully throughout, but always in character, and his character morphs through various phases of his rather difficult life, nevertheless peppered with heroic moments that heightened the richness of his character.

Finally, young Daniel Huttlestone plays Gavroche.  He plays a character about ten years old. His teeth are grayed, his hair uncut and his lines delivered with impressive confidence draws in the audience.  He plays a significant role in the story and is irresistible without stealing scenes from anyone else.  His performance will tug at your heart.  But this is not a movie for children. Graphic scenes of violence and blood spilled to purchase the freedom sought by the rebels may easily fall beyond the scope of young children.

This movie is a must see.  It’s long, but not at all difficult to sit through.  Get there early.  I had to sit in the second row, which is not my usual choice.  That did not hamper my enjoyment of the film.  The story comes across extremely well. All of the characters are powerful.  The filming is spectacular.  There are some gruesome scenes.  Revolution is not pretty. Make sure you see this film on the big screen.  It will undoubtedly come out on DVD, but don’t wait.  See it in the larger than life characters that it portrays.  You’ll be glad you did.