Les Misérables (2012) Review

Les Misérables (2012)
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, Russell Crowe, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Huttlestone, Amanda Seyfried & Anne Hathaway.
Plot: A motion picture based on both the book, as well as the classic stage production, that centres around a variety of individuals residing in 19th century France, whose lives are riddled with numerous thematic elements of love, despair, poverty, wealth and justice that are presented via the medium of song.

Image Credit: Empire Cinemas
Image Credit: Empire Cinema

Les Misérables is a phenomenal film that captures the heart of the audience it gathers, from the astounding cinematography to the moving music that essentially narrates the film itself. I have always admired musical theatre and when such a production is transferred into the cinematic environment, one is introduced to a film genre which converges ‘Hollywood’ with the idea of a traditional stage adaptation, thus creating a piece that both engages and enthralls.

The film which resides in the musical genre truly lives up to its title, with celebrated actors such as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Russell Crowe providing both acting and vocal contributions throughout the entirety of the film. I was particularly impressed by Hugh Jackman’s vocal range as I had previously not known that Jackman had such an incredible voice. This, in conjunction with Jackman’s visual portrayal of Jean Valjean, added to the overall beauty of the film.

One of the most powerful performances within ‘Les Misérables’ was that of Hugh Jackman who played a man who had been imprisoned for nineteen years after stealing a loaf of bread under the watch of officer Javert (Russell Crowe). The story follows Valjean as he breaks parole and starts a new life, reinventing himself, operating under a new identity entitled ‘M’sieur le Maire’. Jackman conveyed a true sense of emotion throughout the entirety of the piece itself, most prominently in his rendition of ‘Bring Him Home’, a classic song that most individuals associate with the musical itself. Jackman truly transformed into the character of Valjean whilst performing the piece. It is one of the most moving and emotional songs from the entire soundtrack. A fabulous rendition overall.

‘Les Misérables’ also accounts the lives of several other characters aside from Jean Valjean, one of those characters in particular being that of Éponine (Samantha Barks). Éponine Thenardiér is one of the main protagonists, and she falls in love with Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne), a young man who has joined the 1832 French rebellion in order to fight for a specific cause (one that shunned the stronghold that the monarchy possessed at the time). This rebellion was also forwarded by fellow defenders of the barricade, Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) and Gavroche Thenardiér (Daniel Huttlestone).

Barks portrays the character of Éponine with such emotion, most effectively during her rendition of the piece ‘On My Own’, which showcases Éponine’s despair, unwillingly accepting that her and Marius will never be ‘one’, as he is in love with another woman entitled ‘Cossette’ (Amanda Seyfried). The notion of unrequited love is powerful throughout the narrative, and is showcased prominently throughout Éponine’s storyline. One empathises with the character in this scene in particular, as the ideology of ‘unrequited love’ is something that can be experienced in everyday life, thus making the plot more relatable to the audience in general. Overall, the emotional elements of Éponine’s ‘On My Own’ are amplified by the use of rain and darkness in the section itself, as this notion (as implemented in existing outlets of film across the board) sets a gloomy and sad tone before Barks even begins to sing the classic musical piece. Hooper utilises the medium of ‘weather’ to reflect the emotion that the character feels personally, which is effective as it enables a gauge with regard to how the character ‘feels’ before they initiate their musical number.

Director Tom Hooper also utilises this ideology frequently throughout the film where the sky is presented as being bright, despite being shrouded in cloud in the final scene, where those whose lives had been tragically lost throughout the film were grouped together singing joyously on a large-scale barricade. The use of clouds is symbolic, possibly representing heaven, a notion that is raised several times within the film itself, thus showcasing how much the visual aspect of the film supports the vocal side, creating a beautifully constructed cinematic piece in the overall process.

Aside from the emotional aspect of the film, ‘Les Misérables’ features a comedic element, which was welcomed, as it helps to balance out the solemn elements that are implemented within Hooper’s adaptation of the popular stage musical. The notion of humour is presented in the form of Monsieur and Madame Thenardiér (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), a fraudulent couple who scam and steal from customers who visit their inn. At first glance, one would assume they would provide a comedic aspect into the film because of their villainous actions, but both Bonham-Carter and Baron-Cohen portray the characters in a rather comical manner. Physically, the characters are cast with over exaggerated features such as having un-kept hair and eccentric outfit choices, as well as having crooked, misshapen teeth, which is stereotypically associated with the comedic community as being symbolic of quirkiness throughout film history (such as with Jim Carrey’s character of Lloyd Christmas in ‘Dumb and Dumber’). Moreover, both Madame and Monsieur Thenardiér’s characters are humorous as they are unorthodox in comparison to the externally ‘polished’ characters who do not possess the eccentric nature that both the Thenardiér’s inherently possess. This paradox is effective as it ultimately presents a range of different identities within one film, where the serious aspect of the film correlates most effectively with the humorous side of it as well, thus reinstating a balance of both aspects on the most part. It should also be noted that Baron-Cohen and Bonham-Carter have performed in comical productions before, thus making them perfect for the roles.

In conclusion, Hooper has transferred a stage-based production into a cinematic piece, which is both musically and visually engaging courtesy of its implementation of elements such as emotion, grief, humour, joy and despair, into one outlet via the individual narratives of the characters, whose stories may be adverse, but are all essentially fused into one, where the said narratives are crossed-over between the different protagonists and some secondary characters too. ‘Les Misérables’ is most definitely a film that should be on any musical mavericks ‘to watch list’ but, if one does not enjoy films from the musical genre, it is something that one may not enjoy due to the fact that the majority of the plot centres around the musical numbers of the production, with little to no dialogue.

For this reason, ‘Les Misérables’ should be considered an audience dividing piece with great artistic qualities, ranking it at a rather modest (to fans at least)…

16/24

Catherine Giggal
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Catherine Giggal

Media Studies Student, Coffee Enthusiast, an avid watcher of comedy film and television.
Catherine Giggal
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  • Sue Farmerb

    Great review, but I’m a little surprised at the low numerical rating after all the words of praise. The only “negative” I could see in the review was that people who don’t like musicals probably won’t like it. Which was not true in my case, as I was never a particular fan of musicals, but this film had a profound effect on my life.

    • catherine giggal

      Thank you for your feedback I really appreciate your kind words -in retrospect I could’ve marked it higher as I enjoyed the film itself but I decided to mark it as this in the case that there may be some that may not enjoy the film because of that aspect in particular – however, i’m glad that you too enjoyed the film despite not being a fan of musicals in particular.

  • Being somewhat elderly I have seen Les Mis from original Broadway to this movie version and love the reality of the live singing in the film. The only drawbacks that I saw in the film is that Hooper tried to keep it within “normal” movie length and sacrificed what might have been longer transition scenes between musical numbers that could have benefitted the film format and the comedy scene went on for way too long again sacrificing needed time that cut into the character development of the Barricade Boys and cutting short of the Red & Black number. In any case, an excellent review of a very good movie.

    • catherine giggal

      Thank you for your kind feedback!