Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Miserables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption-a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
Release Date: December 25, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Musical, Drama
Director Tom Hooper won a much debatable Oscar for his 2010 movie The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. His follow-up is an even greater story put to task on a director, an adaptation of the iconic book/play “Les Miserables.” Following the musical stage version nearly exactly, without exclusion of lesser needed songs or characters, Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables was set to be an epic retelling of the classic tale through the cinematic lens. The final outcome is epic, in the scope of its failure as an adaptation of “Les Miserables.”
The year is 1815 and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is being marked as a “dangerous man” upon his release from slavery–or prison, depending on how you consider his punishment for stealing a loaf of bread 19 years ago. Jean Valjean will never have the opportunity to make a great life for himself unless he becomes a new man. This is what he does, with the help of faith, and God. Flashforward eight years and Jean Valjean is a prosperous businessman living under a new name, but his past is about to catch up with him when his former prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) arrives in town. His life will also drastically become altered when he meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of his factory workers who was fired for having a secret child and forced into prostitution. Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Fantine’s daughter, will soon become the sole reason for Jean Valjean’s life to continue on the run, and the love for Cosette he feels as great as if he were her biological father. What comes in between, after, and during is the story of Les Miserables, culminating in a failed attempt at a people’s revolution in France and the ultimate sacrifice of a father for his daughter. The story is about redemption, unrequited love, sacrifice, and hope. It is one of the most beautiful stories ever written, and ever turned into a stage musical. It is hard to fathom them how Director Tom Hooper managed to screw the entire movie up so badly.
The key element to a story like Les Miserables is emotion, and empathy. You need to feel what the characters feel, go through their trials with them, fear for their survival, and hope for love and strength to carry them through. In the back of your mind while watching Les Miserables you know this is how you should feel, but this knowledge only becomes your reason for disliking the film as the minutes tick by–not even a grand performance by Hugh Jackman or a short-lived one by Anne Hathaway can ease the pain. Each and every scene stands by itself, without consequence of what occurs next or providing a steady flow to the plot at hand. Characters go about their way, assuming the positions they are given, singing the songs written for them, and attempting to connect with the audience. But as a whole, Les Miserables never succeeds at having fluidity and cohesiveness. This is not one large epic story, it is merely a glimpse into various situations and characters trials, none of which feel that they fit together. Tom Hooper has managed to create one of the greatest themed stories ever written and stripped it of its resonance. You do not experience Les Miserables, as you should; you merely watch it, and suffer.
Sets on a stage are one-dimensional, sets shown in movies are two-dimensional, if not three depending on the camera-work involved. The point here is that production design for a film, especially one that includes outside locations, needs to have depth and dimension or the outcome is a cheap looking and flat picture. Les Miserables‘ production design is just that; the sets all look fake, there is little if any dimension to them, and the overall look of the film is that of a camera placed in front of the stage and set to record. The use of scenic backdrops only makes matters worse as characters are portrayed on top of buildings or set against landscapes where it is clear they do not actually exist. From the very first opening shot, as Jean Valjean (Jackman) is imprisoned and pulleying a boat into dock with other inmates, the cheap set design and visual effects are clearly set for the viewer. The ship comes into frame and it is a mere caricature of what CGI could have created. The word fake, obviously being overused thus far in this review, is the first thing that comes to your mind. A state of realness with the environment is never achieved in Les Miserables unless the scene is shot indoors. Even then, the canvas is very stark and misleading, thanks to the camerawork involved.
In an attempt to subvert the attention from the production design it is easy to assume Hooper instructed cinematographer Danny Cohen to film the majority of the film in close-up, with long-takes and the dreaded fish bowl effect he overused and manipulated in The King’s Speech. The close-ups only infuriate you, as the imagination of the time, the place, and the scene is discarded in order to only be able to stare upon an actor’s face as they sing. The choice may have been made in order to give the film viewing audience a closer look than what a stage musical provides–but all it does is cause an uncomfortableness in you as you stare into unassuming faces. Les Miserables is as much about setting as it is about character and music, losing the time, place and scope of the story is disastrous, and feeling like you have spent the majority of the film staring into character’s faces instead of experiencing their world through the lens far greater a disappointment.
Hugh Jackman spends his career bouncing between the stage and big screen, starring in Broadway musicals and a variety of different movies. One thing is for certain, Hugh Jackman can sing, and he proves that fact in Les Miserables, giving in to the emotion of the songs his character Jean Valjean sings throughout the entire film. While Hooper’s direction faulted in not reeling in Jackman’s exuberance, as the stage requires a stronger and louder singing voice than recording on film, one cannot fault Jackman for his sometimes over-the-top renditions. Then there is Jackman’s Valjean’s rival, Russell Crowe’s Javert. Crowe is a musician as well as an actor, having played in a band for years. But their is a difference between his rock-a-billy band type music and what is required to sing a song from the Les Miserables musical. Crowe does not succeed with the transition and his out of tune, lack of tempo and timing, and voice-cracking performances are disastrous for the film as a whole. He and Jackman, who share many a scene, sing together and the differences in their abilities is striking; it only emphasizes Crowe’s inabilities while distracting the viewer from basking in the suspense, thrill, and strong emotions of the moment. When Crowe stands alone singing, and literally in one scene he does, you cannot help but wonder why the magical invention Autotune was not used to its full advantage–and then you consider that perhaps it was, and this was as good as they could make Crowe sound. Russell Crowe is an incredibly talented actor, but he was not up to the task of Javert in a musical setting.
The sure to be applauded achievement comes with Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine, and her incredibly moving rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Hathaway’s character is only present in the first act of the film, her death should come as no shock to anyone who knows the “Les Miserables” story. But it is this one song, above all others, that sets the tone and puts in place many of the themes of the story. Getting it just right is imperative, and Hathaway is remarkable.
Rounding out the cast who have their share of singing is Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, and Amanda Seyfried. While the depth of emotion and empathy required may not resonate onto the viewer during the musical numbers as it should, the talent of all of the supporting cast aforementioned is seen and heard by the viewer. One will not soon forget Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Master of the House” or Samantha Barks’ “On My Own.” Amanda Seyfried proved she could sing in Mama Mia–by far the best part of the film–and she continues to display her talent in Les Miserables. Her sweet angelic face fits Cosette perfectly and her voice is enchanting. The music of Les Miserables is its greatest asset, and had Tom Hooper had a stronger grasp of the emotional build-up needed to evoke the power of the music the film would have faired much better. Alas, he did not, but the songs on their own are enough for the majority of the time to forget everything else that is wrong with Les Miserables.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Tom Hooper
- Producer(s): Tim BevanEric FellnerDebra HaywardCameron Mackintosh
- Screenwriter(s): William Nicholson
- Cast: Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean)Russell Crowe (Javert)Anne Hathaway (Fantine) Amanda Seyfried (Cosette)Sacha Baron Cohen (Thenardier)Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thenardier)Eddie Redmayne (Marius)Samantha Barks (Eponine)Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche)
- Editor(s): Chris Dickens
- Cinematographer: Danny Cohen
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Paco Delgado
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Claude-Michel Schonberg
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA