Before I begin my review, let me make note that I am not a fan of musicals. It’s not that I dislike every one. There are plenty of musicals that I like, from classics like The Wizard of Oz and Fiddler on the Roof to satires like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and Little Shop of Horrors. But there are also plenty of them that I don’t enjoy at all. I’m not overly keen on films like Chicago, West Side Story, and Grease. So I wasn’t exactly expecting to see Les Miserables until I read positive reviews from many bloggers whose opinions I respect. I decided to give it a go then and entered with an open mind.
I liked Les Miserables more than I thought I would, though I had fairly low expectations. After about a day, I appreciated the film much more than I did when I came out of the theater. I cannot deny that I thought it was a good film. But I just didn’t love it as much as everyone else did. In a way, I almost feel bad that I didn’t, since there are many great things about the movie.
But let me digress. Les Miserables is about Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man who has just finished a nineteen year sentence under prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) for stealing a loaf of bread. He then is released on parole but after meeting with a catholic priest, he runs away and vows to become a honest man. Eight years later he has changed his identity and becomes the owner of a factory, and soon discovers that one of his workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), has been fired after the foreman discovers she has an illegitimate child named Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a young girl, Amanda Seyfried as the older version). Fantine soon turns to prostitution, and after being abused by one of her customers is nearly arrested by Javert, now a police inspector, but Valjean takes her to the hospital and vows to take care of her daughter. Javert soon discovers that the factory owner is Valjean, but Valjean escapes and enters Paris. Nine years later, revolution is approaching, and soon both Valjean and Cosette are intertwined in it.
As you can tell from my lengthy plot description, the movie is quite long (I don’t even go into full detail about the ending). In fact, it reminded me of those old Hollywood epics from the 50s and 60s. The production values are very high (the budget was $61 million), and the sets and costumes are all very elaborate.
The movie’s greatest strength is undoubtedly the acting. I heard that the actors sang on camera instead of dubbing it later, mostly because just about every line is sung, and it actually works surprisingly well. I’ve got to admit I would be very surprised if Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway don’t receive Oscar nominations. I knew that Jackman had been in musicals before this and he does well, but I was really surprised to discover that Crowe actually has a pretty good singing voice. Hathaway’s performance is the highlight of the movie, even though she’s only in about 15 minutes, and is pretty involved into her role. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter play a thieving couple who act as the film’s comic relief and they are strong as well.
But what kept me from loving the movie was director Tom Hooper. I’m not just saying this because I hold a grudge against him for winning Best Director over David Fincher. It’s just that I find him an unexperienced filmmaker. Like with both John Adams and The King’s Speech, I couldn’t really find myself loving the film. While he does make his actors give great performances, he awkwardly films the movie, which contains many slanted camera angles and cuts that don’t fit in. It was very distracting for me, and really prevented me from getting emotionally involved in the story (I was the only one in the audience who wasn’t crying).
Still, I had to admit the movie is very impressive. I don’t think Les Miserables is one of the best films of the year, but it’s a good one. I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t enjoy it but also would be lying if I said I loved it.