Les Misérables - Film Review

Do you hear the people sing?

Tom Hooper must be grinning from ear to ear right now. Only a year after the spellbinding success of The King's Speech, he goes and directs Les Misérables and just like last year, it has Oscar nominations and widespread praise lavished upon it. Just how does the man do it? Well, the answer is with a stellar cast and some of the most impressive set and costume design ever seen in film.

To the uninitiated, Les Mis, as it's known amongst its fans, is a smash hit musical renowned for being the longest running musical in the West End, having been shown for over twenty-five years. It tells a tale of heartbreak, love and liberty set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. A prisoner named Jean Valjean breaks parole and goes on to live life as an honest man whilst being pursued by the tenacious Inspector Javert. To say anymore would be to remove the emotional impact of the film's best scenes, which I'm certain those in the know are privy to. With its undying popularity, Hooper chose a guaranteed hit movie, but a movie with which he had to tread carefully, lest he offend the devoted fans of the stage show. Luckily for him, he has done no such thing.

And I'm Javert, do not forget my name!
Valjean is portrayed excellently by Hugh Jackman, who with his Broadway credentials had no difficulty in overcoming the challenge of having to sing live on set. In other screen musicals such as Grease or Hairspray the actors would mime to a pre-recorded soundtrack, but in Les Mis there are no such liberties taken. This only serves to add to the emotional intensity of each scene. Hooper pulls the camera in close for many of the songs, and the heartbreak and sorrow etched on each of the actors and actresses' faces is laid bare, allowing for a real intimacy that's lost on stage. Anne Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream, Jackman's Bring Him Home and Eddie Redmayne's Empty Chairs for Empty Tables all work beautifully with Hooper's style. When you hear their voices break as they let out a sob and see their face contorted with raw emotion, it's difficult to maintain your composure.

Valjean's nemesis, Inspector Javert, is played by Russell Crowe. His lack of professional experience with singing is evident from the get-go, as his voice strains to reach the higher notes. Yet, the way in which he portrays the character more than makes up for this, as the dogged tenacity of Javert is evident through Crowe's excellent performance. As for the rest of the cast, each of them have their moments to shine. The dastardly innkeepers, Monsieur et Madame Thénadier are played with just the right amount of Cockney charm from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, although some of the humour from the pair is lost in the transfer from stage to screen. Cosette, both young and old played by Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried respectively, shines in her scenes, although Seyfried is somewhat overshadowed by the mindblowing Samantha Barks as Éponine. As she sits in the rain sobbing during On My Own, the brilliance of Hooper's casting is wholly apparent. Aaron Tveit's Enjolras brings a lot of bravado to the character as he leads the student revolution, and Eddie Redmayne's Marius does not put a foot wrong in any of his scenes.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by...
Yet they are all, even Jackman, overshadowed by the brilliance of Anne Hathaway as Fantine. For the brief time she appears in the film, she shines the brightest. Her complete emotional breakdown is heartbreaking to see, as she morphs from a beautiful and vestal factory worker to a broken husk of a women sobbing through I Dreamed a Dream. Anyone who doesn't feel emotion as Hathaway's face contorts with rage and despair as she curses the world which has abandoned her and tossed her aside, anyone who feels nothing here is clearly an android, and the Blade Runners will be there to see you shortly. Even though she barely features in the film, she certainly leaves the biggest impression. If she does not win her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, then there is something very wrong with the world.

It would be ill-fitting to not talk about the stellar set and costume design. From the opening scene of Valjean and the chain gang pulling in a beached ship to harbor to the bombast and drama of the shootout at the barricade, Hooper's film delivers spectacle that the stage show simple could not provide. The costume and makeup likewise heighten the drama, be it Javert's pristine military outfit or the haggard and rugged Valjean during the chain gang scene.
Look down, look down, don't look him in the eye.

There is definitely a grandeur gained in bringing Les Mis to the silver screen, and it is a grandeur that only adds to the drama. Yet, at times it is difficult to truly appreciate the beauty of the streets of Paris because of the abundance of close-ups, but that is only a minor gripe.

Final Verdict: On the whole, Hooper has once again struck gold. He has put together a cast who all deliver grade-A performances and hold their own musically, and put them into a grandiose world full of drama and spectacle. You'll cry, you'll laugh, you'll smile, you'll just want to give Anne Hathaway a hug and tell her it'll all be okay. Les Misérables is certainly a emotional rollercoaster of a film, yet it's one you should definitely experience. Vive La France!


- James


  1. Pure torture having to sit through this one, just for the sake of saying I saw all the Best Picture nominees. Terrible!!


  2. Not a fan then Shane? I can understand why someone wouldn't like this though - if you aren't a fan of musicals, then this is probably going to be terrible for you.

    What didn't you like about it?