‘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 singing was amazing. the sets beautiful. My only concern was the pacing. There are stretches during the movie I would lose focus because it would be slow for so long. Terrific musical though. Anne Hathaway!

    • voices are awful
      kind of imbarassing

      • Voices were incredible. The theatre we saw it in had a horrible sound system so was very disappointed, but certainly not the fault of the actors.

      • Robert, you should be “imbarassed” in that you cannot spell “embarassed”

        • Haha! True that. Kind of negates his whole point.

      • Learn to spell before posting a negative comment. Minor issues were overwhelmed by the great music.

      • to Robert

        before commenting on others singing maybe had to learn correct spelling first

        – Les Miserables Movie 2012 great movie great singing great actors!!!

  2. I am not sure if I’ll see this. I like musicals, but not necessarily when originally non-musical stories like this or Oliver Twist are turned into musicals. Also, 40+ songs and nearly three hours sounds like overload and maybe tedium. I would really like to see Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen’s scenes, though. They sound like a great couple to pair up.

    • They were perfect at their roles

  3. I really enjoyed the movie. Eponine: played Samantha Barks for me was the standout performance. Russell Crowe at the other end of the spectrum was painful to listen to.

    • He sounds like a rusty truck, but the truck gets you from point A to B

  4. Just returned from the first showing where the sold out audience gave it a standing ovation at the end of the film. If I had any complaint at all, it was that it felt “crowded”. Where in a theater you have a playbill to fill in the story gaps, Hooper had to do it with scenes and brief exposition so that those not familiar with the musical wouldn’t get lost. In any case, Hooper gave every live theater goer a gift: He put us on stage with the actors where we could see every expression, hear every note, and gaze into the actors eyes. As it stands, Hugh Jackman is the heart, soul, and core of this film. If there is any justice, there is an Oscar in his future.

  5. Having seen the stage production in London over 25 years ago, the movie was good visually and dramatically but musically lacks the impact of the stage production.

  6. If they had made the movie first and then introduced the stage production, it would have closed after a week or two. Surely there were better actors available than Russell Crowe. Jackman did a decent job. Anne Hathaway was fantastic and deserves an award for her performance. I’ve seen the stage play several times and will see it again. I’ve seen the movie once and don’t plan to ever see it again.

  7. One word” Unfreakingbelievable!

  8. Les Miserables was fantastic, need a rating stronger than PG13.

  9. Unfortunately, thought Russell Crowe was miscast. His voice did not stand up to the other actors.

  10. Terrible Movie! Painful to sit through, the non-stop singing was horrible. The plot/movie idea was great but the musical just ruined it for me. Without every SINGLE line being a sang the movie wouldn’t have been so painfully long.

    One of the worst movies I’ve ever sat through…

    • Um it’s a MUSICAL hence the non-stop singing. That’s kind of the point of a musical.

      • It was an operetta not a musical. Musicals have lines and speaking parts.

    • You and I belong to a small club. I found it dreadful, and I am an actor who loves musicals.

  11. I’m not a fan of musicals. That being said I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I would be willing to bet that a lot of guys that got drug to this like I did, were presently surprised. So guys if your wife wants to go take her.

  12. I too echo the others, Hugh should win an Oscar. He was simply outstanding!

  13. Being a long time fan of Les Mis, I was disappointed with the start, but fortunately it improved and was outstanding in the end. I felt the start needed more substance, especially in the voices, something to grab the audience and give them a taste of what to expect. I also think the music could have been better, yet still very good.

  14. I love Les Mis. When I say I love it, I mean I know every single measure of every single song by heart. That being said, I found the “extra songs” to be awkward and grating. (But I don’t think you would pick up on it if you don’t know every single word…) Hugh Jackman portrayed Valjean very expressively and completely transported the viewer into the moment; BUT the role of Valjean requires a very adept signing voice as those songs have a lot of depth to them, Mr. Jackman just doesn’t have the voice required for the part. Same thing with Russel Crowe portraying Javert. Some of the most intense, touching parts of the music were lost to poor singing ability. Anne Hathaway, stole the show no doubt… However, I also pleasantly surprised by Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, she wasn’t the best ever, but was well casted and delivered quite nicely. Eddy Redmayne was a phenomenal Marius and has a surprising voice. The one role (albeit a small role) that I can’t believe no one is talking about is Samantha Barks as Eponine… Wow! Filling the shoes of Frances Ruffelle was a big task (I am very biased in this area as Ms. Ruffelle is my favorite and Eponine is my favorite character)but Ms. Barks was stunning!!
    Overall, I loved it because it is Les Mis! It was done better than I could have expected from Hollywood.

  15. This movie is vastly superior than any other version that has gone before.

    I saw it twice tonight it was so good.

  16. Crowe and Seyfried were both brilliant. playing character not caricature.

    Hathaway is multi faceted and often underrated. She really is incredible.

  17. Overall it was a great movie. If it wasn’t for Crowe and his singing it would have gotten 5 stars, LOL. The movie was just outstanding. The pacing was perfect along with the acting of Hathaway. She just stole the show. Great movie

  18. I guess I don’t get it. I found the movie dark, boring, confusing; and the endless singing was annoying. I will agree that the acting was good/great. Frankly, I’d rather have a tooth pulled. I never pay attention to critical reviews; in fact, most of their “picks” are the ones I don’t enjoy.

    • Voices were incredible. The theatre we saw it in had a horrible sound system so was very disappointed, but certainly not the fault of the actors.

      As far as all the complaints about the singing… It’s a musical. It would be like going to a movie like War Horse and then be surprised and complain that there was war and violence.

  19. Saw the movie yesterday. It is without question the greatest movie I have ever seen. It was great to see an original “Valjean” as the bishop, and everyone was wonderful. Although it was a long movie I never felt like, “okay, let’s get on with it”. The special effects with the battles, etc. were amazing. I don’t know how they could possibly have done a better job. This better get “Best Movie”, “Best Actor”, and “Best Supporting Actress” Oscars.

  20. One of the worries I had for LES MISERABLES was how could they turn this Theatrical Masterpiece into a film version? Not many “Broadway” shows have been successful in this endeavor! BUT…LES MISERABLES will go down as a major work of art! Art in the sense of visual, the sets are so detailed oriented from the elephant in the Bastille Square of Paris, to the hospital room Fantine dies in, the costumes were brilliant especially the Thénardiers’ in their last scene. The visuals of the details of Jean’s bloodshot eyes in the beginning to the eyes of the dead will echo in our minds’ eyes! The screen opened up many scenes that a stage could not! When we got aerial shots of the maze-like Parisian Streets to the sewers whose odor can be smelled and of course the close-ups revealing the tears and fear of the people made us part of the drama unfolding! The surprising choice of actors who in turn suprised us, the audience in their stellar performances was the cherry on the cake! Although some had minor roles like Ms. Hathaway and Ms. Seyfried their short on screen appearances were etched in our minds – forever! Then the surprises were, to me, Sasha Baron Cohen as Monsieur Thénardier ( I am not a Sasha fan) and Ms. Barks as Éponine were both amusing and gut wrenching! In my opinion this should flood many OSCAR nominations and wins! Especially for Mr. Jackman, Ms. Hathaway and both for Ms. Barks and yes, Mr. Cohen as well. The set designer and set decorator did their homework and research well for them both an A+ ad an OSCAR as well! The costume designer Paco should reserve space on his shelf for his. The musical score was stupendous and got into our souls. The writing and directing elicited the tears that needed to be shed and to get tears from men isn’t an easy task! It would be hard to pick a song to win but One Day More is a heart breaker my favorite is the battle cry – RED! I am going to see this one 2 more times and I hope it becomes available in time for Easter!
    This all becomes a possible CLASSIC as the years progress!
    This all becomes so realistic when we recall Hugo’s novel was one of both political and historical perspective!
    To place it in an operatic environment was the sheer genius of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil!
    Nah, it’s the hottest cinematic work of the year!

  21. Beautiful. I had very high expectations and this film met them. It is an emotionally charged story of love and courage but mostly redemption. Bravo!

  22. After reading the book and getting to know and love the characters, I thought this movie really brought them to life! Anne Hathaway as Fantine did a remarkable job!! She really showed the emotion that Fantine felt so perfectly!! Hugh Jackman did a great job as Jean Valjean. There were some parts that I wish he sung a little more, but I understood why he spoke them, that acting made up for it. Russel Crowe did an okay job, I think they could have chosen someone better, but it worked. Samantha Barker did fantastic as Eponine! Amanda as Cosette… WOW! I think she’s the best Cosette I’ve ever seen! Marius did fantastic and all of the supporting actors were wonderful! I wouldn’t recommend it for children under 16. It did have some pretty graphic scenes. The sets were fantastic and overall I have to say I would give it 5 stars! It was heart wrentching and moving and just fantastic! I would see it again and again!

  23. Hugh Jackman stole the show, as did the fellow playing Marius. Eponine
    was wonderful and Colm Wilkinson is a real pro. As for Russel Crowe, he
    was not the greatest but he did his best performing in a musical. After
    all, he is not a singer.
    On the whole I would say that it was a wonderful production, very long,
    but I really did enjoy it very much. I cannot say it was as wonderful as
    the Broadway Show, but it certainly made me smile, cry and enjoy it.

    • While Russell Crowe is not a stage musical singer, he IS a singer in that he has sung in a rock band for many years.

      I actually didn’t have a problem with his voice. It was his acting choices for Javert that I felt were underplayed and lacking in passion. Since almost every line is sung in this film, those acting choices of course affects his singing style and delivery.

  24. The beginning was a bit slow and a little unconvincing, yet after that bit the movie itself is AWESOME! I really enjoyed myself. Yeah, some parts are rather long, and perhaps longer for those who don’t watch musicals, but the graphics are so great that it doesn’t really matter, I think. Please watch this movie, even if you don’t like musicals… at least its an experience.

  25. I don’t see how Ann Hathaway could be nominated for an award being she was only in one third of the film.

    • Others have won for less screentime (see Dame Judi Dench in shakespeare in Love, running time: a little over 8 minutes)

      Remember, the idea of a supporting actor award is those who aren’t lead, like Anne’s character. Plus, she probably left a big impression on people for everyone to consider her.

  26. Very interesting to see how there is such a wide range of opinions. I am in the minority that hated this movie, and I can sleep without any trouble. I have been in plays and musicals during the last 45 years, so I can truly say that I love the stage, but I wanted to leave after the first ten minutes and that feeling never changed. Mediocre voices and songs (with the one exception that we have loved to death), no chemistry at all between stars, too little dialogue, and a story that is as much of a mess as a backyard that hasn’t been trimmed in 20 years. Two hours and thirty-eight minutes of torture! Read the book and let that suffice.

    • Despite your recitation of your stage credentials, your words suggest you’ve never seen the musical version of Les Miserables in the 25+ years it’s been around.

      “too little dialogue” – what does this even mean? There is plenty of dialogue but since almost every line is sung, perhaps you didn’t notice?

      You gripe about the 2 hour 38 minute film length, then turn around and recommend that folks instead read a 1400 page book (in hard cover).