Review: LES MISÉRABLES

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the celebrated Broadway musical truly is a phenomenal feast for the eyes and the ears, but not completely flawless.  Because of the dark and morbid tone of the film, it surprises me that the distributors chose the holiday season to release it. Nevertheless, I must say, and this is coming from someone who has never previously seen the musical, that the movie version really blew me away. From the beautiful set and art design, to the songs performed mostly exceptionally by the talented cast, Les Misérables is an amazing experience and one I must staunchly recommend to see in theaters.

Based on the musical by Claude Michel Schonberg, Alain Boubil and Harold Kretzmer (English translation), which is based on the novel of the same title by Victor Hugo,  Les Misérables tells the sad tale of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman).  In 19th century France, Valjean has been serving hard time in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family.  After completing his nineteen year sentence, Valjean breaks parole to start a brand new life under a new identity. His cover is blown when he decides to help a poor and sick prostitute named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen).  This forces Valjean on the run yet again when his nemesis, a police inspector named Javert (Russell Crowe) discovers his identity.

With a screenplay adapted by William Nicholson (Gladiator), director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his cast and crew do some outstanding work here bringing this musical to life on the big screen.  I marveled at the cinematography by Danny Cohen, the production design by Eve Stewart and the costumes by Paco Delgado.  The entire look of the film feels authentic and realistic.  As I watched the film in awe, I felt transported back to 19th century France.  The makeup artists also do some amazing work adding to the realism of the film.  My only gripe with the film’s presentation, and this is a gripe that really didn’t cost the film any points,  is that I would have appreciated a brief intermission like the stage productions usually have.  I think this would have been great to allow audience members to stretch, get refills on snacks or drinks, and run to the restroom.  While the movie never once bored me, I found the 157 run time difficult to sit through without at least a moment to stretch.

The performances by the cast, with the exception of one member, indubitably impressed me. Most people already know that Hugh Jackman can sing beautifully and his performance perfectly confirms this.  What some people don’t know is that gifted actress Anne Hathaway has the talent to sing also.  She is absolutely incredible here. I sat in amazement as she performs “I Dreamed a Dream” and she nearly brought me to tears.  She had that effect on several audience members around me.  In addition to Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, who portrays the older Cosette, has a lovely voice as well.

For some much needed comic relief, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter perform wonderfully as the Thenardiers.  I enjoyed watching these two talents perform the famous “Master of the House” number.  Now I must discuss the one, not so positive member of the cast and it breaks my heart to point it out, because he really is an incredible actor.  The casting department or Tom Hooper should not have cast Russell Crowe in the role of Javert.  He just doesn’t have the right caliber of singing ability for this key role.  I really am a fan of his acting which doesn’t involve singing, and I can honestly see him in the role of Javert in a non-musical version of Les Mis.  However, he really struggles as a singer in this movie.  His voice is completely wrong when compared with how tremendous the rest of the cast performs.  His vocals lack the strength and power that his role demands.

Like I said it pains me to point it out, but his singing also pained me when I heard it.  I honestly found it distracting and it took me out of the moment, so that is the reason I cannot give this movie my highest rating.  If a more talented and able singer had been cast, I would have given this movie a full four star rating, because I absolutely loved it otherwise.  So despite my issues with Crowe’s performance, I must champion this film’s more positive qualities and recommend that people go see it in the theater.  I believe it is worth a full priced ticket for fans of musicals.  Now, I must warn that the cast sings through almost the entire movie. Very few lines are spoken.  So, if one finds musicals of this kind irritating, then don’t bother going.

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