Les Miserables (2012): Movie Review

This year, Christmas arrived without Mayan disasters and after months of anticipation, I went to watch Les Misérables with my family on the silver screen for Christmas (thanks, sis!). I know a lot of you haven’t seen it yet, and the same lot of you are wondering if it is worth your while or not. I’m going to do my best to share my thoughts on the matter.

Traditionally, I don’t pretend to know enough about movies to write a review. With this said, I do think that I’m somewhat of an expert on musicals, and thus, I’m going to write my thoughts and impressions on the 2012 movie adaptation of Les Misérables.

SPOILER WARNING: After the synopsis, if you have never seen or read Les Misérables, I suggest you stop reading. There will be spoilers since I’m writing this review under the assumption that you have seen some production somewhere or read the book.

Synopsis:

The story begins in 1815 in France, shortly after the French Revolution. The main story unfurls in 3 time periods (1815, 1823, and 1833) around two men: Jean Valjean is a convict who is finishing a 19 year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread; Inspector Javert (no first name) is a police officer that is moral man who considers it his duty to do God’s work and uphold the law. An amazing story with love, hate, mercy, and redemption stems from the rivalry between these two men, and the supporting cast of characters really flesh out the events of the time very well. For a much better summary than the one I just wrote, look to the Wikipedia article and Google.

The Film (Behind the scenes and actual film):

I admire the approach Tom Hooper, the director, took with shooting this movie. With musicals-turned-movies, actors traditionally do all their singing in a studio and then venture out onto the set and lip sync what they recorded while trying to act appropriately. With this production, singing and acting both occurred on the set with the piano accompanying them through earpieces. This method allowed more freedom in their actions and timing, but made shooting more difficult because all the songs had to be done in single takes. Once everyone was satisfied with a certain take, orchestra would under the singers.

More details can be found here:

My only comment about how the film was shot is the abundance of extreme closeups on the actors’/actresses’ faces. Focus on the set or at least zoom out a little bit…it didn’t really bother me that much but I feel like they could have done something else other than that for camerawork.

The scenes were impressive, especially in the beginning when the men are towing the boat through the ocean. Great visuals! Also, some of the plot points that were completely lost on me when I saw it on Broadway and the West End were made very clear to me in the movie. Props!

Sets, costumes, and designs were spot-on, as would be expected from a Hollywood production.

The Music and Singing (overall):

Personally, the singing overall was very good. If I was being nitpicky (and I am), I wish that the actors and actresses sustained their notes longer at the end of phrases. I understand that physical exertion combined with the pressure of single continuous takes may have had an impact on this, but this bothered me time and time again as the movie continued. This wasn’t an issue in the big solo numbers, such as in “On my own”, “I dreamed a dream” or the like, but this really stuck on in group numbers. And in all of Russell Crowe’s songs…more on this later.

Mr. Hooper added two original songs to the production. One didn’t make any particular impact on me as I don’t remember where in the movie it occurred or what it was about; I just remember making a mental note about it. The other song was by Jean Valjean after he picked up Cosette from the Thénardiers and they were riding away – he sings a very sweet song about not knowing how to love until now and I really liked it.

In addition to these original songs, the words to some of the songs were modified slightly. If you’re not a total geek like me, you may not notice, but for the rest of you enthusiasts out there, you’re not misremembering. I checked when I got home. Mr. Hooper also decided to link some dialogue with fragments of certain songs and new lines…in some cases it worked and in some cases it definitely didn’t. Love it or hate it.

The orchestra parts are not as full in the movie as in the musical productions…certain lines are omitted from the accompaniment. I’m not sure of the reasons why, but this results in a slightly thinner sound under the songs. Not a deal-breaker for me, but definitely noticeable, especially in the group numbers.

A few things were switched around, messing with the placement of certain numbers (MAJOR SPOILER WARNING):

1.) When Cosette and Valjean flee the mansion after the attempted robbery, she leaves a note for Marius that Éponine intercepts, leading her to sing “On my own” in the first act.

2.) Gavroche is the one that takes the letter to Valjean from Marius (the one that professes his love).

3.) Éponine dies at the barricade by taking a bullet for Marius.

END OF SPOILERS

There were definitely a couple more things switched around, but since I wasn’t taking extensive notes and saw it only once, I can’t recall where these things changed.

The Actors/Actresses:

I guess the best way to do this is simply a list of what I thought of all the major players.

1.) Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Very convincing in this role. He had the right range to sing the songs, but sometimes his voice could be very jarring as he hit some of the notes and that didn’t allow for much blending. He suffered from the “notes not held long enough at ends of phrases” (NHLEEP) syndrome, but not too badly.

2.) Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert
Oh, Russell. You are a wonderful actor, but your performance as Javert didn’t do it for me. He was perfect for the role…had there been no singing. He has a strong bass voice, but I feel that it lacks the power that Javert needs and he really needed to sustain some of his notes for a longer duration because many of his songs just came across as too breathy. Good try though! His rendition of “Stars” was still moving despite his shortcomings.

3.) Anne Hathaway as Fantine
Anne Hathaway, along with Samantha Barks, really made the movie for me. Even though she’s gone within the first half hour of the movie or so, I was definitely tearing up at “I dreamed a dream” and her presence on the set was amazing. Despite my initial doubts, I adored her in this role.

4.) Amanda Seyfried as Cosette
I’m not sure who played young Cosette, but “Castle on the Cloud” had its usual impact…nothing to write home about though. Amanda Seyfried as teenage Cosette left much to be desired. Yes, she has a pretty face, and I’m not sure about her skills as actress, but as singer, she can hit the notes but has absolutely no support behind her voice whatsoever. This gives a thin and weak sound, which I guess is appropriate for Cosette (maybe), but when in a duet or trio, you almost completely lose her voice. She also suffered from NHLEEP Syndrome.

5.) Eddie Redmayne as Marius
A very good singer, somewhat lacking in the acting department. He filled the role very well, although he does this weird thing with this lips and jaw trembling as he sings and it was very distracting to me.

6.) Sacha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier
These two were hilarious and absolutely perfect for the role. Their timing and execution were magnificent. Also, Mr. Baron-Cohen has a pretty decent voice. Who knew?

7.) Samantha Barks as Éponine 
As expected, she was amazing in this role. No complaints whatsoever. What else would you expect from the West End’s own Éponine? Unrelated note: the girl works out. Whenever she was on the screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her shoulders and biceps. It’s weird, but it’s totally distracting, especially with the type of camerawork that Mr. Hooper utilized.

8.) Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche
Where do all these really talented kids come from? I feel that every Gavroche I’ve ever seen has been really spunky and really good, and little Daniel Huttlestone is no exception. Really good except for very minor bouts of NHLEEP Syndrome.

9.) Group numbers
Very solid singing. Some of the acting from the extras felt a bit too forced, but that may have been because they hired singers that may or may not have had the necessary acting backgrounds. Most, if not all, of the harmonies in the group numbers were preserved.

Conclusion

For those of you (such as myself) who were looking for a direct port of Broadway/West End to film with the same amazing singers but with a bigger budget, you may find yourself slightly disappointed by this rendition of Les Misérables. The movie does have many good points, and I think for me, the company numbers and Ms. Hathaway and Barks saved the overall singing experience for me. Nonetheless, if you’re a hardcore fan of Les Misérables, you should still check this movie out as it has its fair share of good points. If you take the movie as a standalone and don’t compare it to a stage production, I think it does a fairly good job.

Overall, I’d give it a 7.5 or 8 out of 10.

Feel free to share your questions, thoughts, and/or comments about this review or the movie itself after you’ve seen it!

Thanks for reading this stupendously long entry, and I hope you enjoy this movie!

(Poster courtesy of Shockya)

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