Les Miserables Film Review
I went to see the new Les Miserables film over the weekend. Now…having seen the stage version 3 times, I went in there knowing how good the stage version is and that it could’ve gone either way in terms of the acting, singing, staging and character portrayal.
For those who don’t know the storyline, a convict Jean Valjean is given bail and ends up breaking it making him a man on the run. Despite trying to lead a new life, he is discovered by the officer Javert as a young girl Fantine pleads for help when resorting to prostitution to pay for her child’s keep. When she dies in hospital, hermakes a promise to bring the child up as his own away from her not so suitable carers The Thernadiers. He also makes an agreement with Javert that once the child comes of age, he will turn himself in. The story then follows the lives of the girl Cossette, Valjean, Javert and a revolutionary bunch of students as they try to survive in a world where the law has to be opposed in order to make your voice heard and also the personal journeys they take with their unvoiced inner struggles that make each character do strange things they wouldn’t normally…
The musical is based on the book by Victor Hugo of the same name, but obviously an abridged version!
As opposed to the stage version, obviously film can fill in the blanks that some stage productions can’t fill, such as the more detailed back stories and the scenery to indicate the era. This production was gripping from the start and held everyone’s attention. The terrifying presence of Javert (Russell Crowe) in a storm watching the convicts pull the shipwreck into the docks during the opening number ‘Look Down’ made prison reality a shock from the word go. We were there with them and felt their pain, sweat and tears.
You could tell from the outset that both Hugh Jackman (Valjean) and Russell Crowe were enjoying exploring the power shifts between the two characters and that it would be a very strong partnership all round for them.
If we look at the characters in order…Hugh Jackman was the ultimate Jean Valjean! Not only did he have the roughness that was needed for the role, but his strong acting and musical theatre experience shined throughout the whole film! It was good to see him challenging himself as an actor with multiple personalities in the film – a convict, a father, a mayor and a hero. This man is not to be messed with and is also striking with his depth and emotion behind each note and action he does.
A surprise was Anne Hathaway as Fantine the young mother who loses her job when it’s discovered she has a child despite portraying herself as pure. I personally really felt her plight as she looked for money to keep her child in care. The life of a prostitute is not a happy one as aptly portrayed by the chorus of ladies, but it was ‘I dreamed a dream’ that made me sob heavily! The rawness of the emotional power behind that song ripped our hearts out and engaged with her fully, no looking back! Stunning voice, best acting I have seen her do! And her death scene was the most understated sequence yet effective.
This leads me to the Thernadiers (Cossette’s carers) player by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Sadly though, although these two actors are good, they are the weakest link of the whole production. The Thernadiers are the lowest of the low, wheeling and dealing com merchants running their own tavern who are the comedy characters of the piece! Cohen and Carter though resorted to Tim Burton style acting and it became blatantly obvious during ‘master of the house’ that their lack of singing experience was too weak to even carry it off. Wrong casting despite the comedy coming through at times and the characters becoming stronger at the end.
Russell Crowe was another shock – so many reviewers have said that he in fact is the weakest link of the entire thing. Well, I am putting my foot down and asking you if you have seen the same film?!? He knows full well he is not a natural singer, so I could tell he was resorting to his acting skills to carry off this troubled officer obsessed with the law and Valjean. He however despite two of his songs being taken down an octave or two, still drew us in and gave us one of the best performances of the entire film!!! This man is a genius and one every actor who doesn’t have a natural voice for singing should turn to as a reference in years to come. Don’t turn your nose up at him because of this, but learn from him. His suicide is also one of the more horrifying, but striking moments of this film.
Cossette was beautifully played by Amanda Seyfried. Her innocence and purity shone throughout her performance and was heart wrenching to see her fall in love and then be taken away again. Eddie Redmayne’s Marius is also not one to be missed as he not only sings well, but compliments Cossette well. He also does one of the best versions of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ that I’ve heard in a very long time. The sadness and grief that emanates from this young man is astonishing! Well worth keeping an eye on.
But it was Eponine who really shone in her fight for the revolution as well as her painful secret of loving Marius and him not knowing. Samantha Barks is an extremely talented actress who is not to be taken for granted and has already won everybody’s heart ‘On my Own’ was the most beautiful version I’ve heard in a long time.
The chorus of revolutionaries, army, prostitutes and more is what makes this film though. If we didn’t have these people, then the musical would be a waste of time to stage.
Great sets, acting and costumes! Just recast the Thernadiers!
Rating 4/5 stars