The plot from the classic musical goes unchanged here. While this helps the story, it makes the movie rather long. It clocks in at 160 minutes, so make sure you head to the bathroom before you enter the theater. Once the credits rolled though, I was surprised at how brisk the film moved along. It seemed as if no time had passed since the opening number. It’s a great example of how engaging Les Mis ends up being. Now this isn’t necessarily a point against the film, but the beginning is a little clunky. Jean Valjean’s (Hugh Jackman) trip from prisoner, to parole, to reformed man is quick and not explained well. The scene where Valjean gets his parole is the worst, as there is an unnecessary time jump, when delivering the scene straight would have been clearer.
Tom Hooper (King’s Speech) gives Les Mis the grandiose, epic feel that the musical invokes when seeing it on stage. He uses many zoom ins and outs when characters are holding notes, which you’d think would get old, but doesn’t. One scene that Hooper absolutely nails is Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” He holds the camera on her while she sings her heart out. It goes on for about seven minutes, and it’s a great choice. But more on that later.
The production value is astounding. Massive sets bring the audience into every scene, and invoke 18th century France. And while every set appears massive on the zoom in, they work on a smaller scale. With many scenes taking place in small rooms, alcoves, alleyways, the movie feels as if this set is on stage as your watching it. There is minimal CGI, which woks out for the best. The little that is used is very visible, but it’s not a massive problem.
The ensemble cast knocks it out of the park. If you didn’t know, all the actors do their own singing. This ends up being a gift and a curse. The only person who can’t pull their weight is Russell Crowe. His voice doesn’t seem strong enough to handle the notes in Javert’s songs. But Crowe gives a good performance none the less. Jackman’s voice booms with every song, but he gives an amazing vulnerability in the songs. But it doesn’t over power the other singers. I think he has a good chance at a Best Actor nomination. Amanda Seyfried surprised me the most, with her voice easily hitting the very high notes in all of Cosette’s songs. She has a great chemistry with Jackman, and it’s a shame the two of them didn’t have more scenes together. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bohem Carter are a riot as the Thenardiers. Their voices are slightly weaker than the rest of the cast, but still work given the characters they are playing.
When I saw Les Mis on stage, I wasn’t as big a fan of Eponine as some others were. But Samantha Barks brings an amazing amount of heartbreak and warmth to Eponine. Now this could have been the actress in that certain production, but Eponine felt like a jealous brat on stage. Barks instead makes the audience feel her love for Marius, and her subsequent heartbreak. Speaking of Marius, Eddie Redmayne does a great job as Marius. His love for Cosette is clearly felt, not only in his singing, but his interactions with her.
But the real star of the show is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. It’s hauntingly beautiful how perfect Hathaway portrays her. When she sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” I got shivers down my spine. That long take is pure brilliance, and is the scene that will get her an Oscar this year. Hathaway’s voice is very powerful, and she knows how to use it. She dials back at the exact moments to sell how far Fantine has come in her life.
Les Miserables is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I never thought I’d enjoy it his much.
Les Miserables gets 4.5/5.