There were two films I’ve been dying to watch from 2012. The first was Amour directed by Michael Haneke, which I haven’t seen yet. And the other was Les Misérables. I’ve been so excited to watch this film since the trailer came out! I practicaly drowned in my own excitement to see it! Maybe I’m just in my musical-theatre phase, or maybe the film looked too good in the trailer to ignore. Or maybe I just love singing and I want a film where I can sing along to. I dunno. So how did the film hold up…
Based on both the Victor Hugo novel and the musical, the story’s set in 1815. In France, a convict named Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) is released from prison after serving 19 years. Afterwards, he’s offered food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne (just a little trivia here: he’s played by Colm Wilkinson, who portrayed Jean Valjean in both West End and Broadway. Lots of actors from the original stage appeared in the film). Valjean escapes that night stealing his silver, and when he’s caught, the Bishop tells the authorities that the silver was a gift, securing Valjean’s release. Moved by this generosity, Valjean breaks his parole and swears that he’ll live an honest life with a new name. Eight years later, Valjean’s become a mayor and a factory owner. He later finds out that a worker from his factory, Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway), has been fired and has a daughter who she needs to support. Valjean briefly cares for Fantine, but near her death, in her final request she asks Valjean to care for her daughter, Cosette. To make matters worse, he has to run away from Javert (played by Russel Crowe) who’s searching for the convict who escaped parole. Nine years later, Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried) lives with Valjean as her adopted father and grows up into a beautiful and educated young lady. She falls in love with student Marius Pontmerci (played by Eddie Redmayne) who also falls in love with her. Marius and another student named Enjolras are part of a group of rebels who are preparing a small revolution (the June Rebellion or Paris Uprising of 1832). So there’s a lot of stuff going on by this point: there’s Valjean refusing to reveal any answers to Cosette’s questions about his past and her mother, there’s the love story between Cosette and Marius, Éponine’s love for Marius that will never be, the small revolution, and of course we have Javert trying to search for Jean Valjean (Please! Can’t you give the man a break? It’s been seventeen years!) But either way, it’s easy to follow everything.
I’m a girl who loves musicals and I wish I learned more about them. I’m trying to watch as many as I can right now. Heck, most of my favourite movies are either musicals, animated, or both. I just wanted to explain why the film hit me on a personal note. I REALLY loved this film. This was just phenomenal! After leaving the movie theatre, my legs were literally shaking. The problem was that it was hard to review this movie and took me a while to make up my mind, because everyone kept saying “it was ok” or “it wasn’t that good”, and I didn’t want to base my opinion from the people around me, yet I wanted to consider what they said. In the end, my view remains the same: I still loved this movie. Even looking at this film objectively, it’s still a really good film!
I’ll mainly talk about how the film adapted the story and music to screen, which is what most people do when looking at this film. I mean, it’s based on Victor Hugo’s novel AND the famous stage musical. Those aren’t just big things. They’re HUGE things! If I were talking about the story and its themes, I might as well talk about the original story itself. The film does follow up to the book thematically: the themes of corruption of the justice system in 19th century France, and the themes of love and compassion.
Probably the biggest hype from this film was the fact that actors sang as they were being filmed live instead of lip-synching before filming, which is pretty much the first time anyone had ever done this in a musical film (Pitch Perfect is taking the same approach, except they’re focusing on acapella singing instead of making it an actual musical with song numbers, so I’m also looking forward to watch that one). The actors wore hidden ear pieces where a pianist played the instrumental as they sung. Later they’d be able to play over the background music in post-production. That was an excellent idea! It allows the actors to really perform the songs instead of just singing beforehand, and it sounds MUCH more in-synch with what they’re acting out, which gives a lot of freedom in their performances. Not only that, but it feels honest and genuine on screen. It’s not about making the song sound pretty, but about feeling the song through a character. When Anne Hathaway sang “I Dreamed a Dream”, my friends were crying like heck! We could just FEEL the misery, anger, hate, suffering and fragility around this character! I mean, if they’re just lip-synching, then it’s not really singing and it restricts their acting decisions and their emotional space. Here, they’re truly acting and singing, which is pretty much the point of musical theatre. We LISTEN to the characters’ voices. A lot of people complained that the singing was different from the musical stage, but that’s the freaking point. It isn’t supposed to be like the stage version. I’m so glad they didn’t just try to imitate the singing from the original musical, or else why adapt from stage to screen? Performing on stage is VERY different from performing in front of the camera, and the actors managed to pull that off.
The second thing I should talk about is the performances, because we have a huge celebrity cast. For the most part we have actors with lots of experience both on musical theatre and screen, especially Hugh Jackman. Hugh Jackman has musical theatre in his freaking blood. He does play familiar roles like Wolverine from the X-Men films, but I always felt he was more dedicated to the stage than the screen. So I think this was great casting. It shows he was super dedicated to his role (Google it! It’s amazing what he does to get into character!) In his singing, he had a more musical-theatre voice than anybody else, but also tried to make it sound a bit like he was speaking out his dialogue, which worked really well for the film. His performance allows us to understand his transition from a man who had nothing to a man who had everything, and a man who learned compassion and generosity throughout the course of his life.
Then we have Russell Crowe as Javert, who people are very mixed on. Either they love him, or they hate him in this movie (it’s almost a cynical hate). In terms of becoming Javert, I think he did manage to portray the obsessive side and authoritarian look of this character. He’s a man obsessed with the law to the point that even if someone’s kind, he’ll treat him as a criminal just because the law says so. I did see that with him. Although most people complain about his singing: they say that he’s not a good singer. I think a bit differently to this. The thing is that he did have lots of singing experience, but his voice seems more fitting for something like rock n’ roll. It’s not exactly the musical theatre voice that you heard from the other Javerts on stage. Yes, I do think he can sing. I actually liked his take on the song “Stars”. He had a much lower voice than the original Javerts on stage, which is partly due to why he sang differently, but that also meant that it was a bit hard for him to pull-off a quasi-operatic style to his singing. Although the actress who played Éponine, Samantha Barks who was in the stage version, didn’t have that kind of voice either, but she still managed to fit in. Crowe may not be like the ones on stage, but “a bad singer”? Nah. That part I disagree. But I do see where they’re coming from. I did really like this Javert and I did enjoy him.
And now the actress EVERYBODY’S talking about in this film: Anne Hathaway. I’ve heard her sing before in movies (at the top of my head, Ella Enchanted), and need we forget her performance with Hugh Jackman at the Oscars? She is SUPER talented. Anne Hathaway did an outstanding job as Fantine. This is probably the best performance of her career. Fantine’s a woman who used to live in happiness and love in the past, but then lost in all due to the corruption and unfairness of society. Since then, nothing but bad luck came to her and she’s had to sacrifice everything for her daughter. So Fantine’s a very important character thematically and narratively; even after Fantine’s death, she should have some sort of presence lingering. Thanks to Anne Hathaway’s performance, she leaves a huge impact in the film. Hathaway also really dedicated herself to the role (go Google it to find out. I mean, poor kid!) and gives us a brilliant performance. She’s worthy of another award for Best Supporting Actress.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen play the Thénadiers, who are freaking hilarious! I had so much fun with these characters. It’s like they’re from an entirely different film. But even in the serious moments of the story they aren’t too distracting. They provide the right amount of comic relief when they need to, and when they do, they’re just great.
Then we have Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. She had a very angelic singing voice, which is sort of the point of the character: she’s the embodiment of beauty and love that Fantine passed on to Valjean. Oh, and the girl who played young Cosette sang “Castle on a Cloud” beautifully as well! Eddie Remayne as Marius surprisingly had an amazing voice and really played the innocent Marius, playing a similar character in My Week With Marilyn. He actually auditioned for Marius through his iPhone and got the role, which is pretty cool. His performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was wonderful to listen to, especially at the beginning where we only hear his voice in acapella (it was his idea, actually). We also have Samantha Barks who plays Éponine both in the film, and previously on stage and in the 25th anniversary concert. Not much to say than she was good on screen.
If anything, this is a grand film, having a lot of big sets and big crowds. But some of the subtle moments can end up becoming some of the more intense. Like in both songs “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own”, each is a long take of a woman singing in front of the camera. During these songs, there’s nothing but emotions. Brilliant.
What a film to watch! I mean WHAT A FILM! Les Misérables is right now my favourite movie of the year. It’s not on many top ten lists of best movie of the year, just on a few, but I can see the reasons why. I still love it. If you don’t like musicals, maybe this won’t affect you as much as other people (especially since 99% of the film is singing. Kinda like Evita or something) or maybe you’ll prefer to watch it on stage than on screen (which is probably one of the reasons why people didn’t love it so much; it’s a different experience), but even if you prefer the stage version more than this one, at least give it a chance. The pacing is excellent, the film follows up to the themes of the original novel, it’s beautiful to look at, the performances are fantastic, the actors sing great in their own rights, and as a musical film it takes its own unique approach while still being faithful to the original musical. I say go watch it and you’ll have a ball.