Misérables, Les


Release date: December 25, 2012
Director: Tom Hooper
Book by: Victor Hugo
Musical by: Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, Jean-Marc Natel, and James Fenton
Screenplay by: William Nicholson
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Daniel Huttlestone, Isabelle Allen

There was a time when cameras stilled, when their movements were soft, and their views inviting. There was a time when directors weren’t blind, and the world was a song, and the song was exciting. There was a time without Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables.

The grand tale begins with Jean Valjean (Jackman), a man finally allowed on parole by inspector Javert (Crowe) after stealing bread twenty years before. Years later, Fantine (Hathaway) is thrown out of her job and must resort to prostitution to help her daughter Cosette (Allen/Seyfried), who is staying with the Thénardier innkeepers (Cohen & Carter).

Valjean, still on the run from Javert, helps her in her time of need and proceeds to ensure that Cosette lives a life without misery. The story reaches the June Rebellion, where Cosette and Valjean are thrown into the action all for the sake of love thanks to Marius (Redmayne). There is far more to this lengthy story than one can sum up in a few words, but it is at heart the tale of Prisoner 24601, whose name is Jean Valjean.

Hope was certainly high for Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, when we were young and unafraid. Costumes draped in red and black are as lovely as can be, and many songs prove to be as exciting and inspiring as one would have wanted. The live singing works for some and not for others, but the risky move allowed for some spectacular work from those lucky few. While there is plenty of good that comes from Les Misérables, the flood of bad that comes with it is immensely distracting.

Tom Hooper’s heavy-handed and aimless camera work took a toll on the film. His work on The King’s Speech was nowhere near this messy, and it is confusing why he would think this was a good idea here. Considering cast members had their faces mostly off-screen during solo numbers, it’s clear that this is a problem. An abundance of dutch angles and tilts didn’t do much to help either, as they were shamefully out of place throughout most of the film.

As this is the tale of Jean Valjean, one would think a lead man like Hugh Jackman would be spot on, and yet there was something endlessly frustrating about him outside of his fine solo work. Every scene that he and Russell Crowe’s Javert — whose breathy voice was a distraction all in its own — interacted, like in The Confrontation, would have made those school boys wet themselves with tears from laughing. The supporting collection of men, notably Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit, give solid performances as well; the latter with the charm and looks of a young Robert Redford.

The cast is full of some lovely ladies, whose stories are, unfortunately, a little more rushed and cut short than that of the men, but the source material is to blame for that. Anne Hathaway provides the film’s greatest asset in her performance, notably her breathtakingly stripped down I Dreamed A Dream. Seyfried’s Cosette is charming enough, but it is Barks as the only female revolutionary Eponine that leaves you wishing for more after her stellar rendition of On My Own. Some will complain that Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen’s rendition of Master of the House was too akin to their work for Burton’s Sweeney Todd, but they still do well at delivering the film’s much needed comic relief.

At the end of the day, one wishes that these performances had been placed in the hands of a more qualified filmmaker, but unfortunately life has killed those dreams I dreamed. Les Misérables will certainly ensure you hear the people singing the songs of angry (and sad) men (and women), but there’s a chance you may end up looking down in disappointment.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Juan Barquin

Just yer average twenty-something college student with no time on his hands who ends up watching (and writing) too many movies and shows for his own good.

5 Responses

  1. Yes I’m pretty much totally in agreement. I had to watch it twice (second time on DVD) before I fully appreciated the actors who gave it their all. It plays better on a small scale where you can have some distance to songs written to play to the back row of a live audience. But the actors were failed by Tom Hooper. Sad because there’s a lot to like here.

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @Craig Kennedy, I really do wish I could get a second chance to watch it but I was already frustrated enough paying $10 to watch it when I wasn’t expecting anything great. There’s plenty to like and the more I listen to the soundtrack, the more I realize how much I love some of the songs when I don’t have to deal with something unappealing on screen. Glad to see we’re in agreement about Hooper!

  2. i agree–i was mixed about this as well. there were some really great moments, and then there wasn’t. the editing was pretty terrible at times, leaving some of their stories cut like you mentioned. i think hooper might have been over his head with this one

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @Candice Frederick, I can’t entirely place the blame on the story loss on the movie because that’s technically the source material being all ~romantic old school novel/musical~ and it’s understandable because it’s all about Jean Valjean and everyone else is just a minor player used to progress HIS story, but that still bothers me. I think Hooper was definitely over his head with this one. The reason The King’s Speech worked was because it was an intimate and simple setting. This is an extremely grandiose beloved musical that needs an extreme amount of work. The idea for live singing is cute and all but it’s a crazy amount of work for someone with no experience outside of film. How can you direct a musical with live singing if you’ve never directed a Broadway show? It’s all way too ambitious and rushed and it was a bad move on his part.

      Like if I were to go up and make the intimate comedy/drama I’m working on right now and then declare that I was going to proceed to transfer Company from stage to screen, it wouldn’t be /that/ ambitious because it’s another relatively intimate sort of thing. If I were to make my movie and then say I wanted to go ahead and take Wicked or Spamalot or a Big Broadway Show, people would be like “who does this asshole think he is?” and that’s pretty much how I feel about Tom Hooper right now.

  1. November 7, 2013

    […] Les Miserables […]

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