Review by Joseph Hagen & Jenny Memmott
As the lights went down and the opening strains of the film Les Misérables rumbled through the theater, my fiancée leaned over and whispered, “I have been waiting to see this movie my entire life.” She, as someone who has spent their life obsessively listening to the musical and attending every possible stage performance of the show, represents a good majority of rabid individuals who have waited years for a film version of the beloved musical to be released. However, creating a film version of a musical as hallowed as Les Misérables is tricky, as the expectations are incredibly high. Fortunately, Tom Hooper succeeds (for the most part) in translating this musical to the big screen and in the process, gives us a gritty, sweeping, challenging, emotional and fresh version of the musical that should leave all Les Misérables fans (and non-fans) satisfied.
Let’s start with the good. Firstly, Tom Hooper’s vision and conceptualization of the musical is incredible. The directing is absolutely inspired. The world Hooper creates in Les Misérables is all at once beautiful, gritty, and at times, challenging. The beautiful people in the film are certainly lovely, but Hooper does not shy away from showing the poor and downtrodden characters of the film as realistically as possible; they are dirty, diseased, emaciated and ugly. With frequent tight shots of the actors singing, it is impossible not to get sucked into the emotionalism of the film. Much has been made of Hooper’s decision to let the actors sing live in the film. I feel that this was a genius choice: the actors’ performances feel genuine and very much in the moment.
I cannot write this review without mentioning the performances of both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Hugh Jackman IS Jean Valjean. Aside from singing the role capably, he absolutely embraces this role and makes Valjean’s journey in the film believable. You can see every emotion in Jackman’s tired eyes and vulnerable face. I have to admit that in his last scene, I was wiping away a tear. As for Anne Hathaway, there is no other word to describe her performance other than devastating. Believe all of the hype that you’ve heard about her performance. She is absolutely incredible and should be a lock for Best Supporting Actress. Although her time onscreen is short, it is absolutely heart breaking. Aside from Jackman and Hathaway, the other main actors in the film are exceptional and well-cast. Samantha Barks makes a terrific Eponine and both Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide much-needed comic relief as the Thénardiers. Although I have always thought that Amanda Seyfried’s vibrato sounds sort of like a goat caught in a propeller, she is (almost) tolerable in the less than substantial role of Cosette.
The biggest weakness in the film is Russell Crowe. It is an absolute shame that Crowe was cast as Javert. For those familiar with the story of Les Misérables, one could argue that the role of Javert is equal in importance to Jean Valjean. Javert is the yin to Valjean’s yang and much of the story’s plot is driven by the complex relationship between the two. Although Crowe is a powerful actor and could likely pull off this character in a non-singing role, alas, this is a musical. Crowe is vocally outmatched by virtually everyone in this film. He weakness as a singer is made even more evident in his one-on-one scenes with Jackman. Crowe sings as if he has a runny nose and despite his obvious eagerness to impress in this role, he falls flat. As much as I loved this film, I think about how much more spectacular this film could have been with someone else cast as Javert.
All in all, Les Misérables is a triumph. Fans of the stage show will be extremely pleased. As for those who come to the theater with no prior knowledge of the stage show, I believe they will come away from the film with a favorable opinion of the film and will likely have the song “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in their head for days after the film is over.