Les Miserables (2012)

These last months of 2012 see a bumper crop of film adaptations from literary sources. We have an eclectic array from the minimalist rendition of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, to this long awaited maximalist Les Misérables, adapted from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1980 stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel. From Ang Lee to Tom Hooper, we are gratified on both ends of the spectrum.

It is a shift too for Hooper, fresh from his much smaller scale, Oscar winning The King’s Speech (2010), to turn and adapt a successful stage musical into a huge cinematic production. Yes, maximalist could well be the word to describe Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables.

Les Miserables Movie Poster

I sat in a Cineplex theatre that offered Ultra AVX, Audio Visual Experience: wall to wall screen, big sound, huge images. Now of course, I would have seen it on a regular screen and with smaller head shots. For me, the AVX extravagance might even be a distraction. For as I watched the movie, it was in the small moments of torn sentiments, the minute scale of personal transformation, and the internal moral dilemmas so well acted out that I found Hugo a brilliant writer of the human soul. I don’t need big boom sound and maximized frames to sensitize me.

The epic scale is effective, and the cast is admirable in delivering a heartfelt performance. I can fully imagine the difficulty of casting, finding good film actors who can sing well. But overall, they are well chosen.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is impressive. No stranger to musicals, Jackman is a Tony Award winner himself, and here he is perfect for the role in every aspects, physiques, singing and acting. I’m glad to see he get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) in the coming Award Season.

Colm Wilkenson, a Broadway star dating back to Jesus Christ, Superstar and as Jean Valjean in the original musical of Les Miserables has a brief appearance as the Bishop, whose forgiveness of Valjean’s theft when he put him up for the night transforms the bitter soul of the hardened ex-con. His singing of course is impeccable.

Also glad to find out Eddie Redmayne can sing so well too. Like Jackman, he is a Tony Award winner, more recent and a much younger one. He plays Marius, among a group of young revolutionaries who set up the Barricade to defy the French militia. He is the young man who falls in love with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) at first sight. Compared to his A Week With Marilyn, his performance here could well catapult him into more prominent roles in the future.

While many of the other main cast are not Broadway singers, their skills are laudable. Anne Hathaway singing ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ is probably one of the most successful trailers made. And here in the film, her affective appearance as Fantine only makes me wish she can stay a while longer. Good to see she gets a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Comedy or Musical).

Anne Hathaway

Russell Crowe’s singing experience could have come mainly from his rock band, but his voice is fine here as Javert, the prison guard and later policeman on the trail looking for Valjean through the years. Yet it is not the singing, but the acting that I expected more. I know he is supposed to be cold and harsh, yet it is the internal fervor and depth that I find lacking. I think Geoffrey Rush is a more convincing Javert in the 1998 film adaptation… and I suppose he can sing too.

A marvellous duo that serve as a much needed comic relief is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Thénardier, ‘Master of the House’ and his Madame played by and Helena Bonham Carter. What a contrast with her role as Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. The Thénardiers make one apt comic duo with their lively screen presence, great comic timing, and wonderful singing from both.

I must mention the two young actors. Daniel Huttlestone shines in his role as Gavroche, the boy at the Barricade. He has delivered a mature and poignant performance. I hope to see him appear in more films in the future.

The other is in the movie poster, an icon taken from the Musical. It is the image of little Cosette, here in the film movingly played by Isabelle Allen. The look-alike of the two images leads me to this thought:

I’m surprised to find the film adaptation follow the musical to the dot in terms of the song sequence. I think every one of them is performed, plus one more, ‘Suddenly’, written by Schönberg for the film. I was expecting a bit more creative cinematic treatment on screen. Further, the whole movie is connected by one song after another with almost no dialogues. For the film medium, editing could be better used here for pacing and avoiding redundancy. I feel the 157 minute production could be much tighter. With Schönberg directly involved in the adaptation, I’m sure he must have wanted every song preserved. Cutting the length must have been a delicate matter.

Overall, Hooper’s bold attempt to have the actors sing live instead of record the songs in a studio pays off. A first in recent decades, singing while they are acting creates and captures the emotions of the moment. With the title Les Misérables, we see a lot of heartfelt tears, and pathos of the human condition laid bare and raw. But Hugo’s universal theme also flows out as ready as the tears, that the power of forgiveness surpasses all wrongs, and grace triumphs over law. An apt offering for the Christmas season.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

28 thoughts on “Les Miserables (2012)”

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed it and ranked it highly, too. We saw it on Christmas Day — big theatre like you did. I’ve seen the musical on stage several times and was curious about the transformation. I didn’t find it too long — but almost too long. But finding the right actors was a real coup for Tom Hooper — they are outstanding. I was worried when I heard the cast — I knew I could count on Jackman and Hathaway; wasn’t sure about the others. I wasn’t disappointed. On stage, as you know, the distance and the musical score requires more of a singer than an actor — yes, you have to move and be effective, but the tight framing of film isn’t an issue. In film, every shadow that crosses a face, every moist eye or tear shows and should — and I’d rather forsake voice for quality of acting. I was glad I didn’t have to do either in this production.

    (And I was THRILLED about Colm Wilkinson!)

    My friend Kate who saw it with us noted (and I agree) it was the first time she’d seen Les Miserables when she could understand every word that was being sung. I had been cautioning a good listen to the CD would be helpful. Now I don’t think I’d need to offer that caution.

    And, I also found the real-life locations put me more into the real drama of the show than the obvious constraints of the stage sets. This may be partly due to the theatre, but I “felt” the depth of the prison walls, the depth of the sewer, the height (and yes, my own vertigo) at the bridges! Rick said he wished he was sitting closer so he would be even more in it (we were in the middle of the upper tier of the theatre and that was fine with me — about five rows up from where we entered).

    I was pretty blown away by the bigness. But then, a musical IS big. I’m not sure what I would have cut to edit (they DID add an additional song that was lovely but I’m not sure necessary.) Overall, I’d say to anyone who liked musicals — see it. Maybe even if you don’t!


    1. I saw the Musical years ago… have the CD set of the original cast, which I admit, I have put in storage. After seeing the movie, I dug it out and listening to it while driving now. And you know what I find? The singing aren’t very much better, as a matter a fact, I’d prefer Anne Hathaway’s young, clear voice more. 🙂 I remember you mention visiting Victor Hugo’s old home/museum while in Paris, or did I remember it right? And now we’re seeing a modern movie based on his masterpiece. How cool is that?


      1. Yes! We did visit Hugo’s home at Places des Vosges.There was a wonderful painting of Gavroche at the Barricades. The boy in the movie looked much the same. You know, I think you are right about the original cast. I prefer Hathaway, too. But that was such a from-the-gut interpretation, how could it not affect? When I think of it, I am more likely to think of the PBS presentation of Les Mis in concert with Alfie Boe who was just glorious in voice. I think Lea Salonga was Fantine. They were better voices than the original. If you haven’t seen it, pick the DVD up at the rental/Netflix — even if you don’t watch the whole thing again, check out the post-finale-finale, which is very cool.


  2. We are looking forward to seeing it. We saw it on stage in London in 2004. Thankfully we like musicals. I know some people don’t. I’ve heard from older gals that you need to make sure you visit the ladies room before it begins because of the length of the film. 🙂


    1. Diane,

      Thank you for stopping by Diane. I’d love to hear from you after you’ve seen it. The same to you and yours, a Happy New Year and may you find more delightful reads and movies in 2013!


  3. What did you think of Amanda Seyfried – isn’t it her face on the poster? Perhaps she wasn’t very memorable, compared to the others. I love what you say about Hugo’s genius for writing about the human soul – yes, I think that’s very true. His books were huge hits because they turned ordinary people into superstars, banal but familiar human dramas became powerful melodramas. There is always glorification and grandiosity in his work, but its core is to be found in something real and everyday. I must ask my ex-PhD student if he’s seen this – he wrote his dissertation half on Victor Hugo and I know he loves the musical!


    1. litlove,

      The poster on this post is the young Cosette, Isabelle Allen. She does look like Amanda Seyfried, doesn’t she? But all the major actors have a similar poster of their own. But this wild hair one is the young Cosette, meant to look similar to the Musical’s. As to my opinion about Amanda S., to be honest, I really have none. That’s why i didn’t write down anything about her. I think she’s ok, but not remarkable or particularly outstanding. Kind of bland, not unlike how I felt when watching her in Mamma Mia!

      Do go to see the movie, litlove, I think you’ll enjoy it. And… I’d love to hear what your ex-PhD student think of the film. 🙂


    1. JoAnn,

      Thanks. Do come back and share your thoughts after you’ve seen it. Have a Happy New Year, you and yours. May 2013 bring you more reading and listening delights!


  4. Well that does it – I won’t get HM to the movie based on your info about the songs going from one to the other and with little dialogue. Why would I think the movie would be more bookish, despite the fact that it’s a musical? Believe me, we respect the entire “oeuvre” from Hugo’s literary masterpiece (read it in full!!!) to the older films to the B’way extravaganza (HM saw it with our French friends and they were all brought to tears) to expectations for this movie. But I don’t think I’ll get HM to sit through the music…again. And yet without having seen it (tho I hope to do so this weekend), I think I’ll share all your views, just based on the trailers I’ve seen and also on people’s previous work like Redmayne’s. And Hugh (first-name basis!) is so apt for this musical version, not so burly as I’d have Valjean appear, but definitely with the inner strength to pull off this role.
    Thanks as always for a truthful review.

    And by the way, I gave my Mom the CS Lewis book you wrote about several blogs ago as one of her Xmas gifts. She started on it right away! Sometimes, the perfect mention of something at the perfect time becomes a perfect gift!


    1. oh,

      You see, the movie is based on Schönberg and Boublil’s musical, and not directly on Hugo’s novel, that’s why you’ll be experiencing the music more than the literary source. However, for those who love the songs and have seen the musical, the movie definitely gives a different experience and pleasure. I know some reaction being now they really know what happens since they can see the faces up-close (albeit some scenes may feel too up-close as I watched the AVX) and listen to every single word in the lyrics instead of their experience of sitting so far away from the stage. After you’ve seen it, you may want to bring your HM to see it again.

      And… glad my post influenced your choice of Christmas gifts. Hope your Mom likes it. 😉


  5. Les Mis is one of my favourite books, and I love the movie adaptation with Liam Neeson. I’ve never seen the musical, though, and I admit I’m hesitating to see this new version, just in case I don’t like it. But I’m glad to hear most of the performances are so well done. Maybe I will love it….


    1. Shari,

      Yes, I think that movie version is effective. I like both Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush’s duelling roles. This new movie version offers a very different experience, one which I think you’ll enjoy. Let me know what you think if you do see it.


  6. What a great review. I’ve not seen any of the versions, including the new one. My son got to see it before it came out as his friend’s dad is a SAG member. He said it was amazing but he’s also been in over 12 musicals so there you go.


  7. It must be true that I live in a cave. I’d seen the movie posters and a few references to the film, but didn’t realize it would be such a faithful rendition of the musical. That’s quite a feat, then, to find actors who can also sing!

    Obviously, I haven’t seen the film, but your remark about the need for tighter editing was how I felt about The Hobbit. I felt like I was watching the extended version and was wishing for the theatre cut.


    1. nikkipolani,

      You’re absolutely right about The Hobbit. The first 20 mins. can be shortened into 10… I mean, for every dwarf (well, 2 by 2) to arrive at the door? But it compensates with some lively sequences later, which makes it watchable. You know, The Hobbit is just the reverse of an adaptation: instead of condensing, it extends, making the 200 some pages into three movies. For cult followers, they probably would find it gratifying.

      As for Les Mis, you’ll be surprised how well these actors can sing… yes, even Russell Crowe. 😉


  8. I did not read, Arti, because I want to wait until after seeing it. I did peek at your 3 1/2 ripples. 🙂

    Happy New Year, my friend. May hope expand and your spirit soar. xoxo


    1. Yes, Ruth, go and enjoy the feast. I look forward to your coming back and sharing with us your thoughts on the movie. Thanks for the well wishes. Have a wonderful New Year you and yours… and, oh, how I miss seeing pictures of your celebration on the farm over Christmas.


  9. I enjoyed Les Miserables, what a cast, all can sing except…poor Russell Crowe. Putting him in the role of the ruthless policeman just doesn’t do him much justice. He is far too stiff, I don’t think singing is in his blood, I much prefer him in ‘Gladiator’.

    Hugh Jackman is brilliant, two thumbs up! I also love little Cosette, she has such a sweet voice. I wanted more of Anne Hathaway, what a talent….glad she comes back towards the end. I’m really impressed how Tom Hooper handles the scenes, the transition when Jackman departed & passed on.

    A middle-aged man who sat next to me kept sobbing very earlier on and…….later on. I almost handed him a few Kleenex. Yes, there were a few scenes that my eyes welled up too. Les Miserables will definitely get a few Oscars, I might even see it again. I saw the matinee in a small theatre that has 9 rows only….glad I got a seat on the last row. Thank you for your review Arti, looking forward to more.


    1. Mabelip,

      Glad you’ve enjoyed it. Yes, I agree with you about what you’ve said in your comment. Mind you, Russell Crowe has a rock band of his own and have recorded some CD’s. You can hear him sing on YouTube. But I guess that’s definitely a different kind of singing than Broadway musicals, even on screen. Re. awards, I’m afraid Les Miz’s chances for Oscars are slim. Didn’t get favorable feedbacks from some critics. Anyway, it’s the audience that counts, isn’t it? The paying public… esp. those who may even see it again. 😉


  10. I saw Les Mis yesterday, I’d never seen any version before- not a stage version, never seen a movie, and I’ve not read the book. I am perhaps growing into musicals, I haven’t really liked them before. I was blown away. I should have known that I would be. I have a growing love affair with the French classics. I wasn’t impressed with Russell Crowe, but then I don’t like him anyway. Everyone else was impressive- particularly Anne Hathaway, the young boy as Gavroche as you say, but I thought that Samantha Barks as Eponine was the best singer, she was captivating. I haven’t read any Victor Hugo yet, but visited his Parisian home/museum a few years ago, as well as accidentally finding where he stayed in exile in Luxembourg.


    1. Louise,

      Glad you’d enjoyed Les Mis. the movie. One of these days if you have the chance, do go see the musical on stage. It’s a totally different experience. While at the movie I was distracted during the scenes of Eponine, maybe people going to the washroom at that point. I only learned after the film that she actually sings in a Les Mis musical on stage, so’s Daniel Huttlestone who plays Gavroche. As for Russell Crowe, he might have been a miscast. But who would you have picked? For me, I don’t mind seeing Geoffrey Rush again.


      1. That’s interesting. I don’t have the CDs. Have just seen the live show a couple of times and had my daughter sing On my own, Empty chairs and others many times as I chauffeured her to lessons, friends’ places etc. She’s in Canada now – as I might have said – and last I heard hadn’t seen it yet. I’m waiting for her response.


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