Les (not so) Miserables

Amanda Carlsson and Cathy Rong

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Victor Hugo’s classic novel, “Les Miserables,” has been adapted into musicals, board games and multiple television miniseries, but after two years in production it has made its way to the silver screen again. Directed by Tom Hooper, “Les Mis” boasts a runtime of almost two and a half hours, with a star-studded cast including Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried. The film is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and follows the journey of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who is relentlessly hunted by police inspector Javert (Crowe). Valjean (Jackman) vows to become a better man by God and takes a child, Cosette (Seyfried), into his care. The storyline spans seventeen years and concludes in the Paris Uprising of 1832.

Opening on Christmas Day, “Les Mis” is an attempt to make Broadway musicals appeal to the cinematic audience. The film features immaculate cinematography and set design, but it is geared more towards big name film talent rather than Broadway talent. Photo by Universal Pictures

While Jackman shines in his portrayal of Jean Valjean on many levels, Russell Crowe’s Javert was rather abysmal; singing is definitely not Crowe’s forte. It should be noted that Hooper attempts to shift the storyline (originally a play) to a more ‘Hollywood’ style movie casting of already well known A-list stars but dilutes what could have been much stronger performances, singing wise. However, “Les Mis” has  provided a bridge for Broadway stars to make their break into the movie industry; Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Bark both play the same characters as they did in the West End musical. Bark, who played Eponine in the film as well as some of the “Les Mis” productions, deserves more than the little recognition she received. Her tragic love story is relatable by many and her solo performance of “On My Own” stood out among the rest of the performances, vocally.

In directing the film, Hooper made the decision to shoot in a distinctly Hollywood style, rather than that of Broadway production. The movie features many painfully close-up shots that are known as Hooper’s signature, which can be repetitive at times, especially when Redmayne seems to lack eyelashes. Other plentiful angles include titled perspectives and arduous tracking shots.

Most impressive is the fact that all singing in the movie was done while filming on set, not prerecorded in a studio and then edited in afterwards. That way, the actors could interpret and adjust their songs in tune with their emotions, rather than try to match the pace of their prerecorded songs. Recording live allows audiences to have immediate connection with the actors, which some may find moving or distracting.

The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best-Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (Motion Picture Musical or Comedy) for Hugh Jackman and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress Motion Picture for Anne Hathaway. It is currently nominated for nine British Academy of Film and Television Art awards, including Best Film, Best British Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jackman) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Hathaway) and eight Academy Award nominations that include Best Picture, Best Actor (Jackman) and Best Supporting Actress (Hathaway). The film is also nominated for nine Oscars, including best costume design, makeup and hairstyling, music (original song), production design, sound mixing and various acting roles.

Les Miserables
2 hours 38 minutes
Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic material
Directed by Tom Hooper
With Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe
Opinion: Les Miserables features immaculate cinematography and set design, but it is geared more towards big name film talent rather than people with Broadway talent. The film is sure to please wide audiences but Broadway buffs should prepare to be disappointed.