Les Miserables


by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

There are groups of people who are so passionate about a certain thing, others may deem it as a type of “cult” following. Be it Star Wars, professional sport teams, Twilight series (you Twihards know who you are), Harry Potter… the list is endless. Another group of people who can be considered in this “cult” following are those who love musical theater. Some people can sing every song to many of the plays, and have also seen these musicals performed by various casts over the years. From Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and Rent, to Wicked and The Lion King, musical theater has grown in popularity over the years. Now, one of its most well-known titles is once again on the big screen. Brought to us by director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), a new and wonderful version of the timeless Les Miserables.

If you have yet to see the musical live, read it in school, or see a previous film adaptation, allow me to break down the story. It begins in France during the year 1815. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has just finished serving a nineteen year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread and is being released. He has been branded a thief and is unable to find work or lodging anywhere, until a pious man opens up his house, gives him food, wine and a place to sleep. However, Valjean leaves in the night with silver, only to be caught. But the man said he gave Valjean the items, showing him kindness yet again; which, in turn, causes Valjean to turn over his life. He skips his parole and creates a new identity for himself.

Eight years later, Valjean is a wealthy factory owner, living in a new town under a pseudonym to hide from Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who has long been hunting him for breaking his parole. After taking care of a mortally-ill prostitute named Fatine (Anne Hathaway), Valjean swears to take care of her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), who is currently under the misguided care of Thenardier (Sasha Baron Cohen) and Madam Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter). Valjean pays for Cosette, and after almost being taken by Javert, disappears to start a new life again, this time with the girl as his “daughter.”

Almost ten years later and back in Paris, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) is now an adult and falls in love with a young revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Valjean now must deal with his daughter falling in love, avoiding Javert, and keeping himself and Cosette alive as the military falls upon the revolutionaries. He’s fought all these years to maintain his freedom and to provide a good life for himself and Cosette, how will Valjean deal with the winds of change and war?

Just as the sun will rise tomorrow, it’s pretty much guaranteed that two of the performances in Les Miserables will receive Oscar nominations. The transition of Hugh Jackman throughout the course of the film is pure joy to watch. He’s a man who has done wrong in his life and decides to make a change which, in turn, improves the lives of many around him. All the while, he must deal with his past and try to remain this good person while being pursued with the knowledge that, should he be caught, he’ll once again be imprisoned. Hugh Jackman also just happens to have pipes and carries the performance vocally. The other lock for an Oscar nomination is for the wonderful Anne Hathaway. Again, she’s another actress who happens to be able to sing extraordinarily well and brings so much depth and emotion to her performance. It’s nearly impossible not to feel the pain of Fatine. And though Anne is not in the film throughout its entirety, the mar she leaves vocally, emotionally and physically will leave you touched to the core.

Tom Hooper chose to do something different with this big screen version that had not been done before in any previous musical adaptations. He had the actors sing each take live! Usually, the tracks would have been pre-recorded months before and the casting choices made prior to actually meeting the other actors and really developing the characters and feelings in the moment. Not this time. The actors each had a small earpiece that would have live music played while they did their scenes. They were able to focus on the acting and bring the lyrics alive in the moment which created a whole new raw set of emotions and believability that hasn’t been seen in previous silver screen versions.

Les Miserables is only Tom Hooper’s fourth film to date, but based on this and The King’s Speech, it’s safe to say Hooper has a bright future ahead of him. The world of Les Miserables is brought to vivid life through Hooper’s vision with wonderful set pieces and costumes of the time, and through amazing performances and vocals from most of the cast, many other Oscar nominations should be in line. Fans of musical theater can be very critical of their shows being brought the screen, but even the hardcore Les Miserables fans shouldn’t find much to gripe about with this version. After watching the film, appreciation is garnered for the time we live and for what we have, and you leave the theater with not one song embedded in your heart, but a dozen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


  1. MeganDecember 28th, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Exactly! For a first time viewer I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the songs I wanted to sing on the ride home. Great review and thank you for showing love to an amazing film. Can’t wait to go see it again!

  2. AlanahCDecember 28th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I’m likely going to be the only negative comment on here….but I will press on!

    I was impressed by a lot of the vocal performance in this – the live recording idea pleased me immensely, and Anne Hathaway blew me away. However, I didn’t feel that the film succeeded where the stage version did in tone or consistency. There were several plot holes left un-patched, and there were constantly awkward, abrupt shot-cuts and camera movements that brought the viewer right out of the moment (Empty Chairs At Empty Tables was full of this, as was Bring Him Home). I didn’t care for the omission of certain numbers (the Lovely Ladies reprisal, and nearly half of A Little Fall Of Rain), and thought the funnier moments with the innkeeper and his wife were lost in the overdone grotesque tone of their scenes.

    I won’t deny that Hugh Jackman can sing (and act) his butt off, and did so for the entire movie – it’s not lost on me how incredibly difficult it is to cry AND sing at the same time – but he didn’t deliver on One Day More or Bring Him Home, the two most difficult songs in the show. I don’t necessarily fault him for that, considering the fact that I can count the men in history who have nailed those numbers on my fingers, but compounded with the rest of the bugs in the movie, I was frustrated by it. I will say that, with the exception of Russel Crowe (who is outsung by Gerard Butler’s Phantom, and my mother in the shower, and THAT is saying something. Crowe was reminiscent of Jeremy Renner on Saturday Night Live – terrified and so focused on doing something he wasn’t good at that he couldn’t do what he WAS good at), the casting was superb, and the effects were great, but I had a lot of problems with this movie on the film-maker’s end.

    I wanted to like it so badly, but I have to admit, I was underwhelmed, and disappointed. I like what the film wanted to be, and that it took a show I have always loved and tried to bring it to a wider audience in a more popular medium. Ultimately, as a lover of film, I think it failed the medium, in terms of quality. Should any awards be given, they are only warranted by actor performance, not the filmmakers behind the table. This is not best picture material, in my opinion.

  3. TimJanuary 4th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I saw the original in London over 20 years ago–and to some extent I think comparing the stage production to a film is comparing two species of the same grouping (or something like that)…as a film, I think it is probably one of the better musicals I have ever seen–on par with “Camelot” and “Oliver Twist”. The “singing while you act” approach made the singing at times seem raw, but much more emotional. Some performances were better than others, but I think Russel Crowe has been getting a bad rap by some critics–he held his own–especially as the film progressed. I think Jackman and Hathaway will get Oscar nods and Hathaway will likely win–deservedly so–a knock out performance. The film itself should be nominated simply for doing something different extremely well (if not as perfectly as the original)

  4. TristanSeptember 14th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I have given my two cents on the NM forums so won’t repeat it here, but pretty much agree with this awesome review.

    But I had to just say that – OMG – I watched Les Mis for a 2nd time today and I must not have been paying that much attention the first time because I realized Colm Wilkinson (the original Jean Valjean) plays the bishop that helps Valjean! /fangirl

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