Les Misérables

Les Miserables

I wishhhh…

That I could sing my review to you!

Then you would knowwww…

What Les Mis has in store for you!

I don’t know why I bothered to rhyme that, ’cause Les Mis didn’t.

They just sing their lines in rythym

For 2 hours and 40 minutes!

In post-revolutionary France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released after spending nearly 20 years in prison for stealing bread and trying to escape. Just prior to his release, he has a memorable encounter with the officer realesing him, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). After single handedly hauling a downed flag-mast, Valjean lodges in Javert’s memory… which will come back to haunt him later. Soon after release, Valjean breaks parole and goes on the run. Unable to find honest work due to his criminal past however, Valjean is forced to turn again to thievery.

In an act of kindness, the bishop of a Church that Valjean gets caught stealing from refuses to press charges and instead insists that he gave Valjean the silver he’s been caught with. This show of mercy enables Valjean to begin a new life, under a new identity, funded by the gifted silver. Valjean starts a factory and employs many of the less fortunate in the town he resides in. He even becomes Mayor. Unfortunately for him, one day Javert finds him and recognizes him as a wanted fugitive…

Just as Javert closes in, however, a worker in Valjean’s factory, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is fired unfairly by the foreman there. Despondent and with no alternatives, she turns to prostitution. When Valjean sees her lowly state, he feels responsible and vows to protect her – and her young daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried, once she’s grown). A vow that will last many years. Through being chased by Javert, through revolution, and through the challenges of a young girl growing to be a young woman and falling in love.

This was my first exposure to Les Mis, in spite of its classic stature and numerous iterations over the years. As such, I was very impressed with the character of Jean Valjean and his plight. I was also impressed – very impressed by the performance of Hugh Jackman in that role. Perhaps there’s something more expressive about singing, because there were moments in the film, particularly early, where I was just stunned by how much emotion he was able to convey. He truly did seem a broken, frightened, hopeless man at the start. Anne Hathaway was similarly impressive. She basically puts everything she has into her part, sings her heart out, and will absolutely blow you away. I think she and Jackman are both mortal locks for Academy Award nominations, I can’t even fathom either of them being snubbed.

The rest of the cast represents well, too, for the most part. Crowe is good in what is a more thankless role (although I don’t know that anyone is going to accuse him of being the best singer in the world), and Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are fun in providing some much-needed comic relief in the middle of the film as the unscrupulous innkeepers tasked with caring for Cosette.

What I didn’t care for, though, was the third act. First off, it features a new storyline. Jean Valjean and Cosette are reduced to supporting players as a revolutionary tale featuring brand new characters takes over. There’s also an enormous drop off in star power that occurs in this “third wave” of characters that the movie sent. Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne take over the film in the third act, and I was unfamiliar with both of them (its Barks’ first role and Redmayne’s first that I’d have seen). They did fine I suppose, but the “Who the hell are these two?” coupled with the “I thought this movie was about Jean Valjean?” double whammy was a little too much for me to take.

“Sprawl” set in.

I know, I know… that’s the story.

Also, in all honesty, “Les Mis” was much too much singing for me to take. I’m willing to bow out at this point, and say, it’s not my cup of tea, so if constant singing without the structure of songs doesn’t bother you, then feel free to ignore this (in fact, you may want to rush out and see this in that case). But at 2 hours and 40 minutes this was an EPIC length film, and they sing… without form or structure for the most part… all the way through it. In most musicals you have distinct songs that begin and end and have melodies and memorable, discernible choruses, etc… In “Les Mis” it felt like one long, sung, run-on sentence. Songs pop up now and again, I can’t say that there weren’t any, but for the most part it’s just people singing their lines… and I’ll confess, it really wore me down.

“Les Misérables” contains two of the best performances of the year (without a doubt), and has some undeniably powerful and moving moments within. They’re buried in a mountain of “Epic”, though; there’s much too much story to sift through. In a movie that ran too long to hold my interest, they also picked the wrong time to pull away the stars and turn the movie over to the newbies.


Daniel Fogarty

66 thoughts on “Les Misérables

  1. Glad to see you dug this Fogs! Hey I wish you could sing your review, too 😀

    I’m still trying to convince hubby to see it with me. We’ll see as he doesn’t like musicals. I have a feeling I’ll love this one, just have to make sure to bring tons of tissues!

    • Well… I thought it was decent at the end of the day, but it has a ton of issues, lets just say that.

      If your husband doesnt like musicals, I’d keep him far far away from this one. LOL. I dont see it winning fans over to the cause, if you know what I mean. 😦

  2. It is definitely going to split audiences, but like you, those who may not love the musical aspect, should be able to appreciate the performances, as several were simply spectacular. But I understand your frustrations. I did however enjoy it thoroughly.

    • Good to hear Rob. Always happy to hear people enjoyed the movie they went to see.

      Glad you understand where I’m coming from though. While I respect it well enough (I did give it a B) I didnt care for it all that much and definitely didnt think it was great or anything. 😦

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  5. I’ll catch this eventually. I saw the play in London, and interestingly enough the revolutionary war part is a mere representation when done on stage. So it’s interesting to hear the war so overdone and confusing to the onscreen story as FMR highlights in post. Maybe this version is more a screen representation for fans of the musical. Per Crowe singing: hey it’s a film just dub with a great voice. Going to be a must see for me with Jackman and Hathaway as you say. Good post.

    • Yeah, a) Check it out to see Jackman and Hathaway, totally worth it for them alone b) Check it out because its divise. Those who do like it REALLY like it, I just personally wound up with issues with it. Still pretty high quality though.

      My big issue with the third act is that they send Jean Valjean to the sidelines for a good 40 minutes. I was like, wait… where did the LEAD CHARACTER GO? LOL. I dont know. felt like it pulled the rug out of things for me at least. Plus by then I had tired of the singing. No matter who was doing it. 😦

      • [voice of Christopher Walken] Wowee Wow Wow! [\voice of Christopher Walken]

        Au contraire mon frere, this film was powerful and fantastic with a packed house when I saw it. I really enjoyed this pic which was a great adaptation I thought to the big screen with strong directorial chops to show the granduer of the production while still being small in certain key scenes like Fontaine’s [Hathaway’s] gut wrenching trip to the red light district. The closeups of the faces not only conveyed the sentiment of each scene but also the emotion of the actors. Jackman is amazing in this (Wolverine vs Gladiator) epic as is Hathaway. The supporting cast is strong. I appreciated the Bishop with Jean Valjean and was thinking the Bishop’s character had a marvelous voice for his bit part which he does because that is the Valjean actor from both London and then Broadway, Colm Wilkinson. So in a way it was like passing the torch onto another worthy Valjean, which Jackman is clearly in this production. Cohen and Carter added fun and flavor too as FMR highlights.

        I can understand the knock on the change of pace from the first part of the film to more of the revolution because I was glued to the screen prior to the revolution focus. However, I appreciated Redmayne’s Marias, Cousette’s love interest and the primary character leading this part of the film. This revolution part was not as fleshed out in the play that I saw so these scenes were loosely based on the songs rather than extended stage scenes. Theater fans will love this film and everyone else will enjoy it quite a bit I think.

        Here’s a perspective from theater fans from a youngertheater.com blog

        Great movie; super. Solid post.

      • Well, I’m willing to accept the fact that I’m in the minority on my stance on this one, especially after its Oscar nom, but its not one where I feel way off. Not by any means.

        First off, not sure whether you’ve seen those particular posts or not, but I did include Jackman and Hathaway in their respective categories for the MAJOR Awards this year, so at least in that regard, I feel as if I’m giving the film its due.

        The operatic style is going to be alienating, let’s be honest. Right up front, a lot of people (including myself) will be turned off by that, and I think that that needs to be taken into account. And then afterwards, I know I’ve heard some people support the players that come in in the third act, but a) They’re “No Names” which was mildly jarring, considering the cast was so star studded to that point, and b) I didnt connect with them as well. I wasn’t overly impressed… except maybe that they had good voices… but they need to act, too. [Shrugs]

        Finally, that expension into the “Revolution” subplot was really rough on me as a first time viewer. I’m sure that that’s the story, so it’s not as if they can “Do away” with it, but wow, did it ever lose me. 😮

        You’re in the (minor) majority here. But I would point out it’s only at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, so its not the most ironclad, high ground ever exactly LOL 😉

  6. You’re right the operatic style may not be some people’s cup of tea.
    Per cast comments: there’s a school of stage called the West End school in UK that prepares kid actors specifically for theater which I understand was a large portion of cast in the third act, but I get it in regard to film A-listers. You’re on point too that onscreen is for acting not just singing. I guess I just dug it as a sometimes theater fan seeing it on film. No doubt that theater fans will indeed enjoy.

  7. Love your thoughts on this one, Dan. I felt the same way. Jackman and Hathaway were so fantastic in their roles and gave such powerful performances, yet I couldn’t get into this movie. I wanted to love it – it’s ambitious, the acting is phenomenal, and the singing was great (the way the actors sang live instead of miming to the pre-recorded soundtrack really helped bring the emotional aspects of the film to life) – but singing almost every line just about killed me.

    I don’t need to hear the character sing “oh, I am so sad – oh I’m going to walk over here now and do this”. Just let the emotions speak for themselves and the actions speak for themselves sometimes. I’ve never been exposed to Les Mis before this, so I know I’m probably in the minority. I’m just also used to the musical structure where it’s a bit of talking, then a clearly defined musical number, then normal dialogue again. To have almost every line sung, and not always in a way it flowed into other lines was a little too much for me to handle.

    • I dont know that we’re in the minority… well, we probably are but it’s not an overwhelming thing. I do know that Oscar chose it to be in the field ahead of a lot of other movies, so…

      Maybe it was just hard on them to rationalize nominating Jackman and Hathaway if they didnt nominate the film. LOL

      But yeah, that was my primary gripe with the film… the non stop singing. It was my first experience with Les Mis, too. Not a fan, apparently. LOL. Like you say, I totally prefer the songs with borders too 😉

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