‘Les Misérables’ Movie Review – An Outsider’s Perspective
I’m going to start this thing off by admitting one of my biggest blindspots. Not only am I pretty new to musicals in general, but Les Misérables is the first time I’ve seen any adaptation of the super-popular story. Consider this the confessions of a Les Mis virgin…
I’ve convinced myself this was okay for reviewing Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables because it gives me an objective look at the story without previous knowledge to influence it.
For those of you still reading, it became immediately obvious why the story is used so often – both in film and theater. It’s essentially an ensemble tragedy/drama about redemption and change. Everyone likes a good redemption story, and Les Mis has a couple stories in one. Plus, it’s set during the French Revolution, making it a great backdrop for a deep story.
As for the specifics, a convict named Jean Valijean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole after 19 years. Psychologically and morally, Valijean is scarred. When a troubled woman, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), falls into dire circumstances, he takes her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen, Amanda Seyfried), under his wing.
All the while, a crazed police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), tries his hardest to re-incarcerate Valijean. What happens over the course of their lives shows just how cruel and unfair life can be…but with every situation comes a silver lining.
Among the other stories, there’s a man (Eddie Redmayne) fighting for Cosette’s life…and the French Revolution. But, there’s a woman (Samantha Banks) fighting for his life. There’s also a couple of comical thieves (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter) who throw a wrench into Valijean’s plans.
Basically, every character is put in some unfortunate circumstance.
The depth of the conflict is partially what separates Les Mis from a bunch of other redemption stories. Each particular character has something to add to the conflict.
Still, this story could never be considered earth-shattering – even for someone who hasn’t seen it – if it didn’t have one more thing: the music. There are rare (and thus powerful) moments where the booming orchestra and the soaring vocals don’t blair through. Hooper takes advantage of the musical numbers and makes the entire thing a big-budget, extravagant experience.
He can’t do the singing, though, and the casting appears to be right on the nose. I don’t claim to be a musical judge, but the inclusion of Jackman and Hathaway was definitely the right move. Jackman is the lead character, so he obviously has more numbers, but Hathaway really steals the show each time we see (and hear) her.
Hooper uniquely used live vocals when shooting the movie. Instead of pre-recording and lip syncing, the performers would sing live as they acted. This helped it feel more authentic, helping one of the only big issues I had with musicals. It’s nice how music can cut some of the expository corners dialogue can’t, but it often times feels a little cheesy or, at the least, inauthentic.
With everything combined, Les Mis is a powerful story with grandiose storytelling and impeccable technical achievements. Somehow, I left the theater as one of the only ones not crying…but perhaps that says something more about myself than the movie. Tears or not, Tom Hooper does a fabulous job making Les Misérables the grand story it probably deserves. I can see how the story would be successful everywhere from Broadway to high school musicals, but that shouldn’t be a reason to pick apart the polished version.
Follow me on Twitter @jmacle