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Review: Les Misérables

Review: Les Misérables


Title: Les Misérables
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Director:  Tom Hooper
Release: 11th January
Budget: $61,000,000
Box Office:
$238,406,000 (so far!)

It opened in London nearly 28 years ago and even though it was met with serious criticism from professionals within the industry and journalists alike it managed to survive with thanks to it’s audience. Since it’s shaky beginning the show has become a worldwide phenomenon and has been performed on some of the biggest stages in the world, it has been nominated for twelve Tony Awards, won eight, the show finally wound down in 2003 after clocking in 6,680 performances but was reopened only three years later for a revival with the final performance held in 2008 Les Misérables. To say the musical had a following would be an understatement, drawing from fans of musical theatre, literary fans of the original Victor Hugo work and genereal theatre goers, the image of the younf girl with windswept hair is iconic to so many so when fans heard that the musical was going to be getting a big blockbuster budget to bring it to life for cinema, everyone was singing about it.

Now if like myself you somehow managed to avoid everything Les Mis related for the last few years fret not, we can fill in the gaps for you! Les Misérables is set across a number of years, following the journey of a man haunted by his past, attempting to redeem his soul and better himself in the eyes of God.

That man is Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prisoner set free on parole after nineteen years for the crime of theft (he stole bread to feeding his starving sister and nephew) who finds the world is cruel and unforgiving until he is given a chance by a Priest and finds that God has not abandoned him to his misery. Deciding to better himself and escape his past, Valjean lets go of his name and jumps parole assuming a new identity he becomes a man of honour, respect and fortune, working hard for eight years he has established himself as an entrepenuer and mayor of a small town.
For a while everything works out but then Valjean comes face to face with his old jailor, Javert (Russell Crowe) and his new life, his efforts to better himself and the lives of the people around him are torn apart but unwilling to give up Valjean keeps his word he made to a former factory work, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and seeks out her daughter whom she’d sent away for a better life.
Finding the child working in terrible conditions at the hands of her guardians (Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron-Cohen) he whisks the child away and they form a new life together in Paris until once more fate and love intervene and their lives are disrupted by Javert and a group of young idealists intent on helping the people of France find equality.

That’s the jist of the movie… more or less and it’s also pretty spoiler free too! To say I’ve been untouched by the movie isn’t entirely true, one of the most well known songs from the musical, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is one of my  favourite songs of all time and I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard it one time or another (remember Susan Boyle? See!!!) but aside from that one song I had no idea what I was going into so this critique comes from the perspective of a movie buff rather than a Les Mis fanatic. 

Most reviews usually boil down to one simple question; did I enjoy the movie?

Being perfectly honest, I didn’t enjoy it at all, in fact most of the movie I was a cringing to myself silently as I clenched my eyes shut or averted my gaze to anything other than the screen in front of me. Maybe as a Les Mis virgin I wasn’t able to fully appreciate all that was happening before me and while I may not have enjoyed the movie I can still say I appreciated the work and effort that goes into making something even if at times it looked clumsy or awkward.

So why didn’t I feel the urge to belt out a number of my own?

It’s not because I dislike musical theatre, that couldn’t be any further from the truth (Rocky Horror, Little Shop, Wicked, Phantom and Moulin Rouge are all to be found in my collection) but in the case of Les Misérables there were just too many things that dragged the film down, effortlessly overshadowing anything that I would have considered a positive or ray of hope for the movie.

The opening scene of the ship being pulled in was fantastic to behold but then the singing started and we’re treated (tortured?) with our first sight of Jackman and shortly thereafter Crowe. This opening scene set the bar for embarrassment as the leads butted heads for the limelight and while later on when performing a solo they manage to pull off something passable, every scene they share together is marred by the opening and that sense of embarrassment you first feel will haunt you for the whole film. They aren’t the worst thing about the movie though, that honour goes to the lovers torn apart, Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) but I’ll get to them in a moment.

It’ s easy to hack a film to pieces and crib about dodgy performances or the often crude camera/CGI work but in doing so you can often overlook or forget to mention the things that kept you sane throughout the film. In the case of Les Misérables my sanity was spared thanks to the performances of Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks (Eponine). Barks who reprises her role from the stage version of the musical has an innocent charm about her as she laments love unrequited and her last moments on set were moving albeit somewhat drained of energy by her co-star Redmayne.
Hathaway is the real star of this movie, her performance as Fantine, the woman who life threw to the dogs, is incredibly moving, stealing every scene she features in. It helps that her version of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ brought a tear to my eye but in the closing scenes of the movie she helped save the whole thing from being a disaster snatching the spotlight from the clutches of Seyfried, Redmayne who between them barely carry a tune and helping to bolster Jackman in his final moments on screen.

Now, there I said something positive! For the most part I stumbled through Les Misérables wondering when the whole thing was going to end, hoping that the young lovers would meet their end on the guillotine or even a bullet when I guess I was meant to be cheering for them…or something!
Maybe if you’re a fan of the stage version you’ll be able to show appreciation for the grandeous performance of Les Mis on the big screen or maybe even as newbie to the whole thing you’ll be able to enjoy it but if like myself you leave the theatre feeling that the whole thing was overblown then you are not alone and I suggest you join me in my new corner, Les Mehs!

Good Points

Anne Hathaway… seriously the only redeeming feature!

Bad Points

Poor performances from the majority of the cast
Production values though grand felt completely out of place

Rating: 4/10 (3.5 of those are from Anne!)