Les Misérables Review

If there’s one lesson that Les Misérables can teach you, it’s that you should never steal a loaf of bread. Otherwise you will cause a series of events that will reverberate throughout all of revolutionary France. On second thought, if your name is Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), do so, for it leads to the creation of one of the greatest musical motion pictures ever made.

Of course, Les Misérables did not start as a musical motion picture. It is an adaptation of a stage production, which happens to be a stage adaptation of the classic novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. All of which are fantastic.

Les Misérables follows a story that takes place over many years in France in the early 19th century. One of the characters that bind the story together from beginning to end is Jean Valjean (Jackman), a prisoner who is released on parole by Javert (Russell Crowe), only to eventually break his parole and seek to create a new life for himself.

Valjean lives on in France; his past always haunting him, and his life becomes intertwined by a range of other characters that cross his path, such as the tragic Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and her daughter Cossette (Amanda Seyfried), revolutionaries including Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit), deceptive kleptomaniac innkeepers The Thénardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen), and their daughter Éponine (Samantha Barks). Javert (Crowe) also pursues Valjean, seeing him as a fugitive. The two have many a confrontation across the years that go by, and each time makes for strong conflict.

To say that Les Misérables is almost the perfect musical film would still be an understatement. The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper helms an ambitious project with the task of adapting the iconic musical for the big screen, and from the very first shot you know this film is something different. While a musical motion picture such as Chicago did well to bring the stage to the screen, Les Misérables takes everything about the stage production, but translates it in the most perfect way possible for film.

Take for example one of the keynote performances of the musical, On My Own, sung by Samantha Barks. Barks is already very familiar with the role of Éponine, having played her on stage, but the feature film interpretation of her character, and her actual performance is just phenomenal. One can see her presence and talent on stage, but put her in this movie and everyone is just blown away.

In fact, almost everything is phenomenal, and the majority of the characters all have their moments where they really shine, especially Jackman and Hathaway, who give some of the most powerful and moving musical performances in film ever seen. It’s amazing just how well they feel their emotions when they sing, something present in the majority of the cast. The audience really feels what the actors believe, and the audience believes the characters’ journeys every step of the way.

To call it almost perfect is pretty much down to one factor: Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert. While Crowe does well to play Javert the character, as a singer he leaves much to be desired. His performance is not quite as bad as Pierce Brosnan’s in Mama Mia!, but Crowe still has a disconnect with the rest of the musical talents in the film. There is a quality in his voice that jars away from the other voices, and his singing pales in comparison when put against the likes of Jackman. That being said, he could have been a lot worse, and he does manage to hold a strong presence playing the character, but he would definitely be more suited to playing Javert in a non-musical adaptation, similar to that of the 1998 version.

That aside, Les Misérables is still a fantastic movie, and a great one to help open 2013. It takes the brilliance of the stage version and runs with it, creating beautiful imagery and costume design that bleeds into a harsh revolutionary vision unlike that ever seen before in Les Misérables. The sequences involving the revolutionaries holding off assault are filled with tense brutal action that breathes a quality of life worthy of the format.

It is a beautiful movie, with some definite Oscar-worthy performances (Hathaway could win on her performance of I Dreamed A Dream alone) alongside some astonishing interpretations of the classic song library in a vision of France that takes everything to 11 to create the ultimate version of Les Misérables, maybe even the ultimate movie musical.

Les Misérables is a movie that has to be seen to be believed, and then to be seen many times over again as well as purchasing the soundtrack. If it doesn’t get some recognition this award season, then the critics should be imprisoned without parole.

Maybe that way Russell Crowe won’t have to show up and sing.

Les Misérables is in cinemas now. It stars an ensemble cast of talented actors of stage and screen, including Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Tom Hooper directs the film, based on the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, which in turn is based on the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

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