This review contains unmarked spoilers.
Les Mierables, directed by Tom Hooper, is an adaptation of the English-language musical translated from the French musical based on the French book (all of the same name) written by Victor Hugo. It stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a petty criminal who served 19 years hard labour for repeated attempts at escape, finally earning his parole. He breaks it to lead a better life and is pursued by Inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe, and helps Fantine (Anne Hathaway) by adopting her impoverished daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).
Les Miserables is difficult to dissect as a film because it is based on a musical based on a book. In my opinion, the good parts of the film (Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman) made the bad parts (Eponine’s role completely butchered, Eddie Redmayne as Marius) bearable. I am a big fan of the musical and know it backwards, so to see so many unnecessary butchered parts seemed a waste of talent and storytelling. In fact, there were several times when things had been altered so as to make the rest of the story not make sense. My biggest problem is that Valjean had absolutely zero interaction with Marius until he rescued him from the barricade. Valjean sings the most beautiful song ‘Bring Him Home’ all about how Marius was like a son to him, but at that point in the film, Marius didn’t even know Valjean existed. Many of Eponine’s bit parts were removed and she was killed at the barricade too early, leaving her messenger role to Gavroche and making her unrequited love seem petty and misguided rather than the epic love triangle it is supposed to be. Many songs had a verse removed or consisted of only one verse (‘Turning’). However, I do approve of Hooper filming live, instead of having his cast mime along to pre-recordings.
I also had issues with the direction of the film. The better actors among the cast really brought the most amazing emotional impact amongst the audience, but Hooper had an idea of filming entire emotional songs without breaking from the actors. I’m a little torn about this approach, because I got bored during the songs, but I understand that he did it for the emotional impact which, in the end, was achieved. However, this was only done with the better singers AND actors amongst the cast – Redmayne’s rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was cut (as he is not so strong an actor), as was Javert’s suicide (as he is not so strong a singer), whereas Fantine’s I Dreamed a Dream and Valjean’s Soliloquy were both filmed in one shot. However, I have to commend the inclusion of the song Valjean sings as he takes young Cosette away.
I also have to give kudos to Anne Hathaway who was truly amazing as Fantine (seriously, she should win ALL THE AWARDS). Russel Crowe was amazing as the unbreaking Javert, although the role seemed a little high for his much rockier voice. Hugh Jackman was sensational as Valjean, really giving much more emotional depth to the role than I have ever seen in the musical. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were both amusing and frightening as the Thenardiers, and Samantha Banks did her best with a role (Eponine) that was practically halved from its stage version.
Overall the film is worth seeing for people who have not seen the stage show, or who have but aren’t familiar with it. The changes made for the film might annoy some (as it did me) but like I said earlier, the best bits of the film really make the worst bits that much more bearable.