‘Les Misérables’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:53 am,

Les Miserables Reviews starring Hugh Jackman Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe 2012 Les Misérables Review

What Hooper and Co. have created is impressive in its own right, and the streamlined and insightful take on Hugo’s novel opens up the story in new ways that distinguish this version.

With Les Misérables (2012), Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper attempts to breathe new life and perspective into Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel about the tumultuous era of nineteenth century France – a story which has been adapted so many times on both stage and screen it is hard to keep count. With some bold approaches in both format and design, and a star-studded cast attempting to tackle one of the most recognized and beloved songbooks in musical theater, the question is: does Hooper’s Les Mis achieve the greatness of its book, stage, and onscreen counterparts?

The answer is that while it may not be a perfect vision of the epic tale, this new Les Misérables certainly does offer enough fresh perspective and impressive craftsmanship to be called a worthwhile endeavor.

For those not familiar with the work, Les Mis centers on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) a man imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his relatives – and then, trying to escape that hellish imprisonment. Under the watch of duty-driven lawman Javert (Russell Crowe), Jean Valjean endlessly labors until he is granted parole and sent out into the streets as a beggar and pariah. He is taken in by a kind bishop (veteran Les Mis actor Colm Wilkinson), and despite stealing from his holy benefactor, is awarded a chance at repentance.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables 2012 Les Misérables Review

Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables (2012)

Not wasting the opportunity, Jean Valjean reinvents himself as a successful businessman living under a false alias. However, fate intervenes when an elderly man is nearly crushed to death, and Valjean is the only one compassionate enough to help – a feat of strength witnessed by inspector Javert, who begins to suspect that this wealthy nobleman is actually his escaped parolee, Jean Valjean. Fate intercedes a second time soon after when Jean crosses paths with Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young woman cast out of his factory who has since turned to prostitution in order to send money to her daughter, Cosette, who is living in the “care” of heartless thieves Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter). In Fantine, Valjean recognizes an innocent soul he has wronged, and pledges to save the woman’s daughter – even at the cost of rekindling Javert’s relentless pursuit of him.

After that, the tale broadens into a sweeping epic of love, morality and politics, as Jean Valjean raises Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) as his own, until the girl falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young nobleman-turned-revolutionary, thereby intwining the fates of all the players with the political upheaval taking place in the streets of France.

Helena Boham Carter Sacha Baron Cohen and Isabelle Allen in Les Miserables 2012 Les Misérables Review

Helena Boham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Isabelle Allen in ‘Les Misérables’

Hooper’s direction of Les Misérables is fittingly epic and gorgeous, bringing nineteenth century France alive in the same way he did WWII-era England in his Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech. The production design and costumes of Les Mis are impeccable, and many familiar set pieces from the award-winning stage play are brought to life in such vivid new dimensions that it’s hard not to feel as though you are seeing the story again for the first time. Certain sequences are downright masterful (the barricade battle) and certain images are indelible works of art in motion (the opening and closing scenes, or the final fate of Javert).

Hooper also made the bold choice to have the beloved songbook by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil sung live on set by the actors – as opposed to being recorded in a studio and added during post-production. This achieves the desired effect of making the musical experience feel more immersive and organic in terms of actor performance and tactile response to the environment and other cast members; although, at times it does make for some awkward melodic phrasing where spoken dialogue would’ve properly sufficed.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne in Les Miserables 2012 Les Misérables Review

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne in ‘Les Misérables’

The cast of actors all carry the tunes pretty well, but there are some standouts (Jackman, Hathaway, Redmayne) who overshadow some of the other cast members (Crowe, Seyfried) who will likely have their singing critiqued to no end. Hooper often chooses to frame his singers in close-up, revealing the workings of their facial features and emotions; while this too adds new dimensions to our interpretation of character and story, it can also be frustrating at times when the eye wants to see the actors framed against the lush environments they are inhabiting. Still, of the forty-nine(!) songs included in the film – including one new number, “Suddenly” – most of the favorite numbers are executed well, and certainly well enough to have a new crop of viewers humming the tunes long after the end credits roll.

As stated, the cast is pretty wonderful, mixing big-name stars with stage performers – including a couple thespians who have tackled Les Mis onstage before. Jackman gives the best performance of his career as Jean Valjean; Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) gives a breakout performance as Marius; Carter and Cohen put their comedic quirks to great use as the scene-stealing Thénardiers (some of the film’s best sequences involve their thieving antics); Hathaway once again surprises in her versatility and ability; and Les Mis vet Samantha Barks has played the role of Éponine enough to know how to distinguish the pivotal character. Crowe and Seyfried are more tame and mundane in their roles – which is not to say they are bad, simply unremarkable and lacking the captivating gravity of some of their co-stars. Crowe in particular is a somewhat lackluster antagonist – though he carries a tune better than has been suggested.

Russell Crowe in Les Miserables 2012 Les Misérables Review

Russell Crowe in ‘Les Misérables’

At nearly three hours in runtime (and almost every line of dialogue in song) Les Mis is definitely NOT for those who are shaky on the prospect of epic musicals. Attentive listening is certainly required, as there several jumps in time, and the aging and re-introduction of several characters to keep note of. There is also little connective tissue between one musical number and the next to help anyone not following the songs closely to understand what is going on. Indeed, that is one drawback to this format of filmmaking: the sometimes jostling and disorienting progression, which doesn’t follow typical cinematic rules of moment-to-moment explanation, movement and development.

Nevertheless, the sheer scale of what Hooper and Co. have created is impressive in its own right, and the streamlined and insightful take on Hugo’s novel opens up the story in new ways that distinguish this version of Les Mis from its many predecessors. Is it perfect? No. Is it worthy of the word “classic?” Perhaps in some circles of opinion. But for my part (as an admitted causal fan of musicals) it is simply a very gorgeous, well-executed (but at times lukewarm) film.

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Les Misérables is now playing in theaters. It is 157 min long and Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements. For more on the film’s production, read our interview with the Les Mis Cast and director.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. The worst movie ever it was so bad that at one point I counted that more than a third of the people were on their phones women no not all of you will like it as soon as the ” directed by” came up I heard at least 3 women say thank god or finally or something along the lines for all the men I pray for you make sure you have food and drinks I suggest buying the smallest size that you can get a refill in that way you can leave frequently

    • This is what is wrong with our generation. They no longer can appreciate the beauty of a real movie. When it said musical did you expect two songs to be sung? I know people have their opinions but to say it like that. Really? This movie was spectacular! Very well directed and performed. Why don’t you just go see the ” Justin Bieber” from now on. Seriously any of you besides the ones stupid enough to think the musical had to much singing, get some class.

      • Totally! This is real music!

    • Agreed!!!!!!

      • I agree to. This musical demonstrates how the characters should express thier feelings through music. It is suppost to bring to you the struggles the characters went through dramatically. If you cannot appreciate an amazing classic, then this is not the film for you.

    • It’s not the movie, it’s just that your circle of crowd are uncultured.

  2. Shame. Good production. Horrible singing.

  3. Absolutely the worst piece of crap I have ever seen. This is only the second movie in my life (I am 49) that I have walked out on (the other being “Ordinary People” in 1980). Watching actors sing their lines in a movie is beyond irritating. I felt like I was dying a slow, painful death.

    • Heathen…this is the best musical ever filmed…period. IF you are not a fan of broadway musical then it probably wasn’t for you. But for those of us who can appreciate the story, the cinematography, and the incredible music and lyrics that support the film…this was an absolute masterpiece. As for you…I’m sure there’s another showing of Animal House on cable you’ll find interesting that should be upcoming in a few days.

      • well and correctly said

    • Don’t you know its a musical before you went in? Internet was flooded with trailers and teasers. Next time do your research so you won’t be disappointed.

    • You shouldn’t leave a comment unless you are complimenting this true work of art!

  4. I personally hated this movie because it was like listening to the same song over and over again for 2 and a half hours. If your a musical kind of person i can see how you would like it but if not… don’t go. The thing that i hated the most was that the girl in the beginning looked like she was feeling miserable and it was just a look that disturbed me for some reason. She looked kinda stupid to me

    • Wow, seriously? That’s the beauty/genius of les Mis–that ALL the songs are woven into the tapestry that is the musical — all songs have some core element that relate to other songs in the musical… That’s what makes it so beautiful, you’re better off sticking to movies like : Beavis and Butthead, Southpark, and Dumb and Dumber.

    • The whole point was to demonstrate the “Miserable” things the characters in the movie went through…

  5. Hugh jackmon was pretty cool though. I liked him a lot

  6. I wish there was a fast forward button. What were a bunch of actors with english accents doing trying to be french. It was so ridicules to have a young boy with an English cockney accent on the barricades! What were they thinking! A broad-way show is about the live orchestra and wonderful singing performances. This had neither…The Liam Neisen version is a much better movie…don’t waster your money on “Lame is.”

  7. I’ve never understood why people who don’t like musicals or opera are surprised when they don’t like musicals or opera. If you’ve never liked it what makes you think you’ll like it now? As someone whose followed Les Mis from the beginning if found this rendition to be true to the original and actually, seeing it in this format it was easier to understand and follow. All in all it was fantastic. Huge Jackman and Anne Hathaway were unbelievable in their roles. Their voices were very surprising and good. Russel Crow was perfect for Javer although he is and average signer. His acting was great. In all if you love musicals you absolutely love this. If you don’t like musicals then you don’t like musicals and you won’t like this.

    • Hugh Jackman. Not Huge Jackman! You’ve gotta love autocorrect!

  8. I have adored this show since I first saw it when I was 5 years old. I was really nervous when the movie came out because I was afraid they would totally butcher it (note-they didn’t). If you aren’t a theater/musical person WHY ARE YOU GOING TO SEE A MUSICAL AND THEN ACTING SURPRISED THAT YOU DIDN’T LIKE IT? yes, alot of the singing was mediocre. yes, alot of the actors were obviously chosen for their names, not talent. yes, it was not nearly as good as seeing it live. but it was good for a movie-musical! hugh jackman was a huge surprise. anne hathaway, eddie redmayne and samantha barks were amazing. the thenardiers were hilarious. amanda seyfried and russell crowe were aright. aaron tveit was breathtaking. i couldn’t stand the constant close-ups. i especially can’t stand when people hate on the movie for singing when there could be dialouge-THAT’S NOT THE MOVIE OR DIRECTOR’S FAULT THAT IS THE WRITER’S FAULT. and that’ les mis. like it or not. personally, i loved it and i’ve already seen it 4 times. i especially like the story and the music, so really almost any production of it will be fine with me as long as it’s not horribly done, which this was not so PLEASE STOP HATING GUYS

    • also, i have to say it is definitely way too long for a movie. in a play, with an intermission, the length works, but this is longer than the play and has no intermission. so yes that part does suck big time. just thought i’d add that :P

    • 4 times!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Who cares if the singing was not up to everyones liking. I thought Hugh Jackman hit this one out of the ballpark with his performance! I saw the play over 20 years ago. The producers did an excellent job filming. They did an excellent job casting, and I prefer who they picked vs. some famous singer/Opera Singer who can not act. Even Russell Crowe did very well, not sure why people are so negative. I’ve seen far worse actors sing and do a lousy job, on Broadway. The little boy and girl in the movie were super cute and did a great job!! Anne Hathaway did good; however I liked her better in other films she has done in the past. Sacha Cohen and Helen Carter were HI-larious. If you have not seen it and love musicals, this is a must see!!!

  10. This movie was the biggest piece of garbo I have ever seen. And no, I’m not one of those ‘yolo swaggots’ that populate our world today. I like a good movie, but this was s***. It was so boring, that my friend fell asleep, fell over, and fracture his temporal plate on his skull. He is now in the hospital. The theater owner had to come in and give everybody free tickets to another movie because we all started a riot. such trash.

    • I wonder why you guys were in the cinema at all.
      I’m genuinely curious.
      It sounds like you do not enjoy musicals. So what did you expect?
      Michael Bay style explosions and action?

      • It got a lot of attention promotion-wise. So we expected something GREAT

  11. Favorites being what they are, Daniel Day Lewis will probably win the Oscar, but this year even though he was magnificent in Lincoln, he flat out doesn’t deserve it. Never for a second forget what Hugh Jackman did in order to disappear into this character. For Les Miserables, Mr. Jackman moved through a thirty year age difference with four distinct faces while singing and acting each age to perfection – a totally multilayered performance. All of it was done while up to his chest in icy water, climbing through snow-covered mountains in threadbare robes, slogging through watered peat sludge and physically changing in order to achieve the correct look for each stage of the role.

    In the process he lifted masts, carts, children, and two full-grown bodies while filming, acting, and singing each song live repeatedly for 10 – 12 hours a day. Then he topped it off by being the lead and at the center of a great ensemble cast that made every one of his fellow actors better. No one but no one else could have done what he did for this role or even came close to doing that this year. (Yes that goes for Daniel Day-Lewis)

  12. This was a totally boring movie for me. At one point I considered walking out, it was so long and drawn out the story could have been told in three quarters of the time! Also the relentlessness of the singing was agony, I thought there would have been a little more dialogue in it but no just continual singing and some of it not very good singing in my opinion e.g. Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway gave the stand out performance in my opinion but i certainly won’t be rushing out and buying the dvd.

  13. This movie adapted from the book written by Victor Hugo and also the Broadway musical hits the big screen in captivating cinema. Les Misérables had a lot of expectations to build up to. The movie lived up to viewers’ expectations by demonstrating believable acting, impressive live singing, and great imagery. Set in France after the French Revolution, an escaped convict vows to reform his life by caring for an orphaned girl named Cosette. Actors Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway light the path for the big-screen musical.

    Much work went into the filming of Les Misérables starting with the star-studded cast. The movie was a firm musical—perhaps five lines were told instead of sung—and the actors performed surprisingly well as singers. Russell Crowe took four months of detailed singing lessons to fulfill the role of Javert, the policeman driven to find Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) after Valjean broke parole and escaped into society. Heart-breaking tales of peasants on the streets of France are sung in joint chorus as they stick together to try to stop the ruthless policemen from invading their cities.

    The use of live singing adds to the drama and emotion of the characters’ stories. What could have easily been recorded as perfect and motionless was sung live and affected by the sobs of the performers. The breaks in the words felt more like being at the scene of corruption rather than just watching the events take place. An orchestra adjusted to the singing of the actors, not vice-versa which made the acting more believable.

    The name of the musical stands for “the miserable ones” and that is exactly what the audience sees for the entire movie. Peasants line the streets and even wealthy men and women seek happiness in the dark times. Viewing the movie in IMAX or 3D amplifies the appearance of the poor French people and therefore making the emotions of characters more visible. Incredible makeup on the performers draws a better picture for “the miserable ones.” Costumes worn by the performers are most believable and ragged to fit the mood of the story.

    Above all, the musical was enjoyable to the ears of a musician such as me. The soundtrack sounds amazing if one were to enjoy the movie so much that he or she would like to experience the same feelings felt in the theater. One should make sure that once he or she decides to watch the movie, he or she must be prepared to hear singing for the duration of the movie and also be ready to ride emotions throughout the film. The movie does tend to drag, but by recognizing the beautiful music and artwork of the film, the 157-minute journey will be enjoyable. This movie may not be best suited for younger children as it does display bitter warfare, a few graphic actions, and some sexual tension.

  14. At nearly 3hrs long, it seems from the comments that is 3hrs too long for the average American.

    Still, those of us not raised on junk food and cartoons can appreciate the divine beauty that is Les Mis.

  15. Eric Frey
    The musical film Les Miserables derives its environment and conflict from the book written by Victor Hugo and also the Broadway portrayals, which it is most commonly associated with. The star-studded cast consists of Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway, as well as some unknown names that performed with the same quality. Several polar opposite opinions have been stated in regards to the quality of this movie, but seeing as how this is a film of art, most of the opinions remain subjective.

    Tom Hooper directed this film in his own signature and interesting way. In almost all of Tom Hooper’s movies, the camera angles and decisions of perspective tend to mount up to a graceful style of directing. Rather than centering the main individual of a specific scene in the center of the screen, Hooper places them off enough to where the detail in the background speaks almost as vividly as the primary focus. This style led Les Miserables to become one of the most beautiful films out there.

    The vocal performance of the actors sings as the most controversial subject of the film. People who watched the Broadway version first do not seem to enjoy the singing, whereas people who have not seen the Broadway version typically love the performance. It cannot be debated that the actors did not hit the notes… tuners do not lie. However, what the Broadway viewers were expecting was something of a more theatrical taste. Because of this preordained set of standards, it led many viewers to dislike the style in which the songs were performed. The acting was simply fantastic. That subject is not up for debate.
    The name of this movie stands for “The Miserable Ones” and it serves as a wonderful description to what one will see in this film. The story takes place in France, after the French Revolution. Throughout the film, the sadness of the peasants can be seen radiating from their attire and expressions as a result of the dark time at hand. Their expressions and musky makeup curve the mood of the story in a way that may even depress the viewer.

    To a musician, it is almost impossible to not enjoy this film. Some say that at 157 minutes, the film was too long. However, with 95 percent of the dialogue being sung rather than spoken, glorious music accompanies every minute, making it almost impossible to not be moved by the ambiance. I recommend this movie for anyone who enjoys a compelling story, captivating scenery, and beautiful music.

  16. There was a time when actors shined,
    When their voices were aloft,
    And their singing, inviting.
    There was a time when the audience wasn’t deaf, or blind,
    And the screen had songs
    And the way the songs sung exciting.
    There was a time,
    Then it all went wrong.

    I’ve seen the scene that Anne won by,
    Where she tried
    But life was missing.
    I screamed that Crowe would just die;
    I dreamed that Hugh could be forgiven.
    Then I was bummed, for twenty I paid;
    My dough and time they stole and I wasted.
    There’s no refund I’m afraid,
    For songs ill-sung by names profitably pasted.

    “But the actors sing it live!”
    The media voices yelled with thunder,
    As publicists play their part,
    As they turn their screams to shame.

    DVD’s coming this summer for fans to buy,
    To fill their days with anxious wonder:
    “Is this really better than live?”
    But his cash was gone when autumn came.

    And still I dream plays on screen are good to see,
    That stage and film can mesh together.
    But there are dreams that cannot be,
    Good actors don’t mean the singing’s better.

    And singing is a musical’s reason to be,
    So different from that hell that I was watching.
    No different now from what it seemed,
    This flick has killed me with the scenes I’d seen.

    • Creative review, sorry you missed the wonder of a film people will still be praising a decade from now.

    • Love your review… it was spot on… and can be sung to I Dreamed a Dream… what could be better? :)

  17. Superb.

    Brilliantly acted, and the way that the songs were all sung in real-time, not pre-recorded, all helped. The review above refers to ‘every line of dialog is in song’. The fact is this is a modern opera.

    Again, Superb

  18. There are two glaring errors to Kopi Outlaw’s review: first, Jean Valjean risked being chased again by Javert not by the vow he gave Fantine, but by choosing to do what is right and confessing in court! What the hell, that was a Major plot point and a pivotal point of Valjean’s epic soliloquy, Who Am I?

    Second, having the actors sing on stage live during filming is NOT the reason for every line of dialogue being sung. That’s how the musical was written! Sheesh. Some very obvious mistakes that are really inexcusable in evaluating this movie.

  19. I have never been interested into musicals until I saw Les Miserables. You will fall in love with their music, I guarantee!!!❤

  20. Really hated this movie. I like musicals, but not singing every line. The only really good music was I Dreamed a Dream, and I thought that scene was great. Good scenery and atmosphere. The actors were good (except Crowe), but I wish they had been able to speak rather than always sing. The story as told in the movie was silly. Why did the workers hate Ann’s character so much. Why was her daughter so hated? Why did the fighters insist on fighting when they knew they would all die? Probably works in the novel, but not here.

  21. for me it is one of the best movies than I have ever seen

  22. People singing their lines is not a musical, it’s artistic nonsense. This movie was excruciating to watch. The only reason I rented it from Netflix was to see Eddie Redmayne.

  23. Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I dreamed a dream” I would pay the price of the movie over and over to see just that one scene again. Even though I loved the song for years, I never got the song until that scene. What a wonderful rendition of Les Mis.