Adapted from the 1862 novel written by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” follows the story of an ex-convict named Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, whom upon leaving prison tries changing his life and becoming a better man than he was before. He breaks parole though and because of this, the law-obsessed inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe, goes to no ends throughout the movie to try and capture Valjean.
After getting his life back on track and avoiding Javert, Valjean meets a woman named Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway who has had to sell her body to support her young daughter, Cosette. Upon her death, Valjean makes a promise to protect Cosette and raise her as his own. The rest of the film is about his struggles of raising Cosette and an envisionment of France in the early 1800s.
The film is a musical in every sense of the word. A majority of the movie, probably around 95 percent, is done through song, even the dialogue. This both helped and hurt the film at some points. There are some stunningly beautiful musical pieces that are performed really well, for example Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream.” And yet at the same time there were some songs that were a little mediocre and felt like they undercut some of the better music pieces in the film.
The story is also strong, being quite epic in scope, as it covers a large portion of the 1800s and gives off the feeling of what it was like living in that era. Valjean’s struggles in life are fascinating and give the film a lot of emotional weight. That being said, the film could have been tightened up. At nearly three hours long, the film’s length does start to be felt during some of its dull moments. Shortening the film a few scenes here and there could have helped the movie.
The performances shine in the movie. Before seeing ‘Les Miserables” I may have thought that Daniel Day-Lewis was a lock to get the Oscar for best male actor in a leading role, however, I now think that Hugh Jackman could easily win it as he puts this film on his back and carries it very well. The raw emotion that Jackman gets across through the screen as Valjean is amazing. The same can be said about Hathaway as Fantine. Her performance has a lot of heart and meaning to it.
Crowe’s performance was good at times, yet musically, he is one of the weaker parts. He brings a lot into the role and his experience as an actor helps, yet his singing was not on par with some of the others. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter had some of the less then stellar roles in the movie. The two were supposed to be the comic relief in the film, but there were times that their attempts at comedy felt misplaced. Amanda Seyfried though as Cosette was really good. So far in her career, it can legitimately be called the best performance she’s ever given.
Capturing 19th Century France through the camera was Director Tom Hooper’s greatest accomplishment. The film opens with a great long shot of a ship being pulled into a harbor by a group of prisoners and immediately sets the tone and establishes the world the movie takes place in. Hooper and his crew were able to make beautiful set and costume designs for a believable, real period piece. The very last scene of the film is especially powerful.
There is a lot of good in “Les Miserables” and the good outweighs the bad. Despite a few performances and characters not being up to par, some of the songs being a bit dull and a few scenes that probably could have been left in the editing room, the film is still solid. Jackman and Hathaway are so great in it. There are some visually and musically powerful songs that are performed fantastically and the setting of France in that era is enrapturing. “Les Miserables” receives a 4 out of 5.
This review was first published in the Dec. 28, 2012 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News