Film Review: “Les Miserables”

   Les Miserables, the smash Broadway hit, comes to the big screen to end the year 2012 in a powerful way.  In director Tom Hooper’s follow up to the Academy Award winning The King’s Speech, the man proves once again that he knows how to direct.  Les Miserables is a musical sensation and while the average person who isn’t a fan of musicals might be bored out of their mind, fans of the play will be thrilled to see this adaptation come to life.  Though the film itself has a few problems, Les Miserables is flawless (aside from Amanda Seyfried) performance wise.

Set in 19th century France, Jean Valjean played the sensational Hugh Jackman (X Men) is just finishing up his time in prison for stealing a loaf of bread.  While Valjean is on parole, a man does a good deed for him that makes Valjean change his ways.  In order to seek a better life for himself, Valjean breaks his parole.  Though he has accomplished many things and performed great acts of kindness, he is constantly being pursued by the ruthless policeman, Javert who is played by Russell Crowe (Gladiator).  The story spans for over a decade and throughout this journey, Valjean’s life changes drastically in a tale of grief, sorrow, and redemption.

There were two categories that I thought were going to be a shoe-in at the Academy Awards for this year.  However, after viewing Les Miserables, I’m not so sure the awards will be predicted that simply.  The first award that I thought would be obvious was Roger Deakins for director of cinematography for the film SkyfallLes Miserables makes a competitive statement with beautiful cinematography.  Danny Cohen (director of cinematography) provides a gloomy but breath-taking image of 19th century France.  Secondly, I was positive that Daniel Day Lewis would win the award for best male actor in a leading role, but Hugh Jackman won’t go down without a fight.  Many don’t know that Jackman was a Broadway actor before he was cast as Wolverine and instantly became a Hollywood star.  His background experience gave him the singing abilities to carry the lead role.  All I can say is Hugh Jackman is stunning as Jean Valjean and he will certainly receive a nomination.

Obviously, the music in Les Miserables is fantastic.  Instead of having the songs re-dubbed in post production, all of the singing was performed on camera.  This had a tremendous payoff.  One song in particular (“I Dreamed a Dream”) blew me away.  The thing about Anne Hathaway is a couple of years ago, I couldn’t stand her.  Then after she played the role of Selena Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, she gained my respect.  Now, after listening to her sing “I Dreamed a Dream,” I can say I am a fan of Anne Hathaway.  One complaint that many people have had about Les Miserables was Russell Crowe’s singing.  I’m not sure what the fuss is all about.  Russell Crowe performed well.  He may not be as good a singer as Jackman, but Crowe was certainly better than Amanda Seyfried.  She was the worst aspect of the film and her performance (both acting and singing) was dull.  The final problem with Les Miserables is that it is a tad lengthy with a final run time of 157 minutes.  It’s hard to take in that much singing and watch that much depression without an intermission of some sort.  There were probably a couple of moments that could have been cut out.  The first and third act of the film has great pace and you feel invested in the story.  But the second act is painfully slow.  That’s the act where an obnoxious love triangle is thrown into the mix.  Although, within this act there is a standout performance by newcomer Samantha Barks that makes it a bit more tolerable to watch.  Rumor has it that Barks beat out Taylor Swift for the role of Eponine.  Thank God!

The tone of Les Miserables may come off as severely depressing, but the overall theme is redemption and hope.  Fans of musical theater will be inspired by this and consider Les Miserables a cinematic achievement.  I should warn though, if you aren’t a fan of musicals, you should probably stay away from this film.  This isn’t a musical like Chicago where most of the film is spoken and then a song is tossed in every now and then.  With Les Miserables, 95% of the dialogue is done through song.  Words are spoken for maybe a sentence or two briefly to set up another song throughout the film.  It’s like watching a play, but it’s a little easier to follow because you have close ups of the characters making them more recognizable.  Overall, Les Miserables is a good movie with important themes and terrific performances.  However, it does have its problems holding it back from being a great movie.  B+

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