Les Misérables | Film reviews, news & interviews
Director Tom Hooper's take on the monumental musical shocks with the unexpected
Les Misérables is revolutionary, but not in a French way. Oscar-winning director Tom (The King's Speech) Hooper’s film of a musical seen by over 60 million people in over 40 countries and in half again as many languages has engaged so much critical ink I’m almost dreading writing my own opinion. However, as a property that has run onstage for 27 years, Les Misérables - once nicknamed The Glums - is a stirring tale of love, loss, cruelty, salvation and predation that also comes with a built-in audience of which you may or may not be a member.
Whatever you think about musicals (I hate myself for liking West Side Story), the film Les Misérables is going to come as a bit of a shock - a very palpable 159-minute running time shock of actors singing directly to camera. There is no lip-syncing here, apparently, it's all real, just like if you were in Paris just after the Revolution - I mean, the 19th century. Claude-Michel Schönberg's music resembles a modern opera with actors rather than singers, although Hugh Jackman, playing Valjean, has a serious musical theatre pedigree and is eminently capable of carrying a tune.
Should Russell Crowe have gone on the same diet as Jackman and Hathaway?
As one jokey fan put it, the plot is simple. Wolverine is on the run from Gladiator when Wolverine runs into Catwoman and attempts to save her. That’s roughly the storyline, with a bit more cruelty, weepiness and dirt thrown in (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are such good actors that they seem to have their own film going inside Les Mis: theirs is a comedy.)
Russell Crowe (pictured below) stars as evil Javert, the policeman who hounds Valjean after he breaks his parole. Shown grace via the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson who played Valjean for years onstage in London and New York), Valjean becomes a model citizen. He finds Fantine (Anne Hathaway) starving and dying, after she was thrown out of his factory for having a child to support. Flash forward to Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit who all acquit themselves well, in both singing and acting. Special mention is due to Samantha Barks, who, after appearing in the stage version, kept auditioning for the role of Eponine before winning it (although how she sings with that tiny waist is beyond me. I’m sure some internal organs were removed.)
But should you see Les Misérables? Ask yourself these questions: did I like the book and/or the musical? Can I sit for almost three hours without eating? Can I stop thinking that Russell Crowe should have gone on the same diet as Jackman and Hathaway?
Seriously, Les Misérables is revolutionary in that it shocks us with the unexpected. It is unexpectedly involving and dazzling in design, and unexpectedly moving with Fantine’s sad solo "I Dreamed a Dream" (you will cry, oh, you will - SuBo, move over for AnHa). If you treat Les Misérables as theatre sung into cinematic life, you may understand what Hooper was trying to achieve. Did he succeed? Really, with something as different and startling as this, only time will tell. Reviewers didn’t think much of Lawrence of Arabia at first either.
Watch the trailer for Les Misérables
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Wasikowska, Bonham Carter and Depp back in inventive if unfaithful Carroll sequel
Impressive Russian World War II sniper story with international dimension
George Clooney and Julia Roberts star in enjoyable anti-Wall Street drama
Artwork/documentary about an old couple in the Chernobyl isolation zone is quietly beautiful
Nicholas Ray's masterful thriller ponders the screenwriter's art and impossible love
Kate Beckinsale shines in a stylish but uneven adaptation of Austen's early novella
Journalists are untarnished heroes in the Oscar-winning tale of the Boston Globe and the Catholic Church
A film master’s first steps: reappraising Tarkovsky
From Texas über-normal to San Francisco rock chick: at last the Janis Joplin story
Tom Hanks is the reason to see Dave Eggers's sentimental Saudi comedy
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Are we suffering from a surfeit of superheroes?