Les Misérables

Les Miserables

I wishhhh…

That I could sing my review to you!

Then you would knowwww…

What Les Mis has in store for you!

I don’t know why I bothered to rhyme that, ’cause Les Mis didn’t.

They just sing their lines in rythym

For 2 hours and 40 minutes!

In post-revolutionary France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released after spending nearly 20 years in prison for stealing bread and trying to escape. Just prior to his release, he has a memorable encounter with the officer realesing him, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). After single handedly hauling a downed flag-mast, Valjean lodges in Javert’s memory… which will come back to haunt him later. Soon after release, Valjean breaks parole and goes on the run. Unable to find honest work due to his criminal past however, Valjean is forced to turn again to thievery.

In an act of kindness, the bishop of a Church that Valjean gets caught stealing from refuses to press charges and instead insists that he gave Valjean the silver he’s been caught with. This show of mercy enables Valjean to begin a new life, under a new identity, funded by the gifted silver. Valjean starts a factory and employs many of the less fortunate in the town he resides in. He even becomes Mayor. Unfortunately for him, one day Javert finds him and recognizes him as a wanted fugitive…

Just as Javert closes in, however, a worker in Valjean’s factory, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is fired unfairly by the foreman there. Despondent and with no alternatives, she turns to prostitution. When Valjean sees her lowly state, he feels responsible and vows to protect her – and her young daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried, once she’s grown). A vow that will last many years. Through being chased by Javert, through revolution, and through the challenges of a young girl growing to be a young woman and falling in love.

This was my first exposure to Les Mis, in spite of its classic stature and numerous iterations over the years. As such, I was very impressed with the character of Jean Valjean and his plight. I was also impressed – very impressed by the performance of Hugh Jackman in that role. Perhaps there’s something more expressive about singing, because there were moments in the film, particularly early, where I was just stunned by how much emotion he was able to convey. He truly did seem a broken, frightened, hopeless man at the start. Anne Hathaway was similarly impressive. She basically puts everything she has into her part, sings her heart out, and will absolutely blow you away. I think she and Jackman are both mortal locks for Academy Award nominations, I can’t even fathom either of them being snubbed.

The rest of the cast represents well, too, for the most part. Crowe is good in what is a more thankless role (although I don’t know that anyone is going to accuse him of being the best singer in the world), and Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are fun in providing some much-needed comic relief in the middle of the film as the unscrupulous innkeepers tasked with caring for Cosette.

What I didn’t care for, though, was the third act. First off, it features a new storyline. Jean Valjean and Cosette are reduced to supporting players as a revolutionary tale featuring brand new characters takes over. There’s also an enormous drop off in star power that occurs in this “third wave” of characters that the movie sent. Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne take over the film in the third act, and I was unfamiliar with both of them (its Barks’ first role and Redmayne’s first that I’d have seen). They did fine I suppose, but the “Who the hell are these two?” coupled with the “I thought this movie was about Jean Valjean?” double whammy was a little too much for me to take.

“Sprawl” set in.

I know, I know… that’s the story.

Also, in all honesty, “Les Mis” was much too much singing for me to take. I’m willing to bow out at this point, and say, it’s not my cup of tea, so if constant singing without the structure of songs doesn’t bother you, then feel free to ignore this (in fact, you may want to rush out and see this in that case). But at 2 hours and 40 minutes this was an EPIC length film, and they sing… without form or structure for the most part… all the way through it. In most musicals you have distinct songs that begin and end and have melodies and memorable, discernible choruses, etc… In “Les Mis” it felt like one long, sung, run-on sentence. Songs pop up now and again, I can’t say that there weren’t any, but for the most part it’s just people singing their lines… and I’ll confess, it really wore me down.

“Les Misérables” contains two of the best performances of the year (without a doubt), and has some undeniably powerful and moving moments within. They’re buried in a mountain of “Epic”, though; there’s much too much story to sift through. In a movie that ran too long to hold my interest, they also picked the wrong time to pull away the stars and turn the movie over to the newbies.


Daniel Fogarty


66 thoughts on “Les Misérables

  1. This is a maybe for me. While I’ve enjoyed some of the films/miniseries on Victor Hugho’s story over the years, the musical (when it was on stage) just didn’t draw me. Same here, I’m afraid. We’ve had a number of 2.5 hours plus films this year, haven’t we?

    • Yeah, I know. But unlike the Hobbit, there’s no Orc battles to keep my focus. LOL

      You know what I realized when I read this comment, Le0p? This would probably be MUCH better suited for home viewing. Being able to pause and or watch in installments would make a world of difference here. 😀

  2. Whenever going to see movies based on Broadway shows it is important to remember: this is a movie based on the most popular musical of all time & that, well, it will contain non-stop music! 😉 I’ve not seen the movie yet, but I have seen previous Hollywood inceptions of the play, as well as the play itself; 5 times! From what I’ve read & the interviews I’ve seen, the attempt here was to make a movie of the Broadway play, brought to life by the magic of Hollywood, this was to be achieved in part by the ‘real time’ singing, instead of dubbing & the actors commitment to the roles, such as Hugh Jackman’s weight loss. On a side note: yes it is a story about Jean Valjean, but more importantly it’s a story about the French Revolution, hence the digression in the 3rd Act. As a fan of Les Mis I have been looking forward to this movie, but if someone isn’t into musical theatre, this would not be the movie for them. 🙂 Hope you had a great Christmas, Dan!

    • Kim! Good to see you. 😀

      Listen though… I understand ALL of that. But they still have to make a movie out of it, and once it leaves the stage for the screen, it’s no longer a broadway play… it’s a film. It definitely did seem like a straight up adaptation of a Broadway musical, and seeing as you’re such a huge fan of that property, I’m betting you’ll LOVE this.

      But certainly, my duty here isn’t to assess the movie just for loyalists, but for everyone. That said… gotta call it like I see it you know? 😦

      Hope you had a great Christmas too Kim. We actually even got a dusting of snow here Christmas eve… just enough to leave a little white around. 😀

  3. I’ll be watching this one this weekend.

    Good review. And you are continuing my tradition of reading reviews that swing from positive to negative. Though you are the first person to mention the change in focus of the 3rd Act. Thanks for the heads-up.

    • No prob. I mean, people familiar with the story are probably already aware of the whole “Revolution” section anyways…. but this was my first exposure to it, and you know – far from me to criticize such a classic, time honored tale – but I was like, “Hey! Where did Jean Valjean go?” LOL 😀

  4. This sounds like a case of the adaptation gap that makes Shakespeare so hard to put to film. I think I would have been more interested if the filmmaker has stepped out of the box to bridge that gap.

    • Well, for people that are big fans of the musical, they’ll probably love this…

      Hooper was definitely trying to just bring the musical to the screen, and I’m assuming he did a good job. Can’t be sure, of course, as I’ve never seen it. 😦

  5. Gahh, what about this thing drives me nuts? It can’t be the singing…oh, that’s right. I’m a musician, and I can’t stand Hollywood’s tanned fingers on anything close to a melody. Doesn’t matter how “devoted” of a cast you have, this will always be a book for me, and I doubt that they could make a brilliant film out of it. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, so feel free to tell me what a mope I am (seriously, bash away if necessary), but Les Mis isn’t a story that any blockbuster actor or actress should be in. It can’t work with baggage. Wolverine is Wolverine, I tell you!

    Wait, what are Marla Singer and Borat doing in there? I might see this just for their scenes…

    • They’re the scumbag innkeepers who rob all their guests, LOL. Their scenes were fun, they both did a good job.

      If you’re attached to the book, I can’t help you… This is obviously an adaptation of the musical and not the novel directly.

      I CAN saying you might be off base with the whole “Wolverine is Wolverine” thing though, LOL. Come on, 😀 He’s an actor! Gotta be able to see him as other things!

  6. Yeah, I hear you on the disjointed plot part. But, like you, I find myself hesitating to complain about it since that’s apparently how the story is supposed to go (this movie was my introduction to this story as well). As a whole, I thought the movie was strewn about with scenes of absolute sheer brilliance, some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen in film this year.

    However, there’s probably just as many scenes that felt a bit overlong and tedious, and left my mind wandering about quite a bit. It makes me wonder if he couldn’t have found a way to rework a lot of these scenes to better fit a movie format. It’s a 2.5 hour movie that feels like a 4 hour long movie. And it’s one that leaves me completely conflicted on just how exactly I feel about it. I almost wanna give it a second viewing to finalize my thoughts, but then I think about the awful pacing and it makes me give that a second thought, lol.

    As for performances, I definitely agree with you on Jackman and Hathaway, and I feel Crowe did well enough. I was personally most impressed by Samantha Bark, though I appear to be alone in that sentiment, heh. But anyways, it’s interesting reading the different reactions between those who are familiar with the story going in and those who aren’t. Good review. 🙂

    • It definitely does have a couple of scenes that are like “Holy Shit, that was incredible” level moments, especially Hathaway and Jackman, early.

      I think its the same obligation every movie has. Make a good movie, first and foremost. Staying true to the source material is a secondary consideration at best. Run time doesnt matter, its how well you keep your audience engaged. I’m watching the LotR movies on Blu right now, and those are all 9 hours long each 😀 but every minute of them is awesome so I dont care.

      Like you, “my attention wandered”. And at the worst time, too. The end of the movie really fell flat… so instead of hitting a high note (forgive the pun), it stumbled across the finish line.

      I’m sure fans of the musical will be pleased though. 😦

  7. Nice review. I’m not sure if I’ll see this one since I’m not a fan of musicals or Tom Hooper and it looks a lot like just Oscar bait to me. It’s good to hear that Russell Crowe does a strong job here.

    • Heh. If you’re not a fan of musicals or Hooper? I would steeeeeer cleeeeeear. LOL But yeah, Jackman was awesome. I’d bet my bottom dollar he at least gets a best actor nom. Gotta be a sure thing.

  8. This is more of an opera than a musical and one of the best films of the year. I have not seen the stage version yet (that will be in May) but I am so looking forward to it. I am not that big a fan of opera but this had me so captivated that I didn’t look at my watch once during the entire running time. This will be on my best of list and I can’t wait for the BD to be released.

  9. I love musicals. I can watch a long film that is nearly all music. But simply singing lines rather then a lot of songs strung together would wear on my nerves. That lifts it out of musical and into the realm of opera and I’m not as fond of that. I keep trying to tell myself I really need to go see this but I’m just not feeling it. I love the casting but have trouble with Victor Hugo in general. I’m not terribly fond of depressing material.

    As much as I would like to see Hathaway in this role, I’m also have too much of a hang up with seeing her look the healthiest I’ve ever seen her to starving herself into a role. That type of deprivation has long term medical reprecussions and I almost feel as if going to this in the theaters sends a message of support for unsafe, starvation diets for a role, or a job, or just to be thin.

    • “That lifts it out of musical and into the realm of opera and I’m not as fond of that.” Yup – right on the borderline. 😦 And it sure as hell does have a lot of depressing moments along the way, no doubt.

      Huh. As to the thinning down to get a role, I didnt think she was “oh my god she’s gonna die thin”. Nor Jackman, who also lost a lot of weight…. but definitely they did play with their weight for the role. I’m betting they’re gonna be ok though 😉

      • I guess it was only 25 lbs. After catching a few clips, I think some of the Hollywood photo ops when she was filming actually made her look far more underweight than she looks in those clips.

      • I kept meaning to watch that Monday and Tuesday but I was too cranky. I was contemplating it for tonight while thinking I should see if I could find a copy of Pirate Radio for a double feature.

  10. Its actually OK to be a fan of musicals, but not be a fan of THIS musical. I’m the same way about Phantom of the Opera. I love musicals, but not that musical. Les Mis has never been my favorite musical (it doesn’t really have enough recognizable, hummable songs in it for me) but as spectacle its always been second to none.

    • “it doesn’t really have enough recognizable, hummable songs in it for me”

      YES. Exactly.

      “but as spectacle its always been second to none”

      No…. LOL. You’d have to point that out to me. Although if this were onstage and not onscreen I guess I could see that, especially if they do a good job with the war stuff at the end. But as a movie? I… wasn’t exactly blown away by anything aside from a couple of moments where the stars were singing…

  11. My wife is the one person in the world that could drag me kicking and screaming to this movie, if she wanted to.

    However, she’s out of town for a week and a half, and when she gets back, she’d rather go see “Django Unchained”. I don’t think she has any interest in this at all.

    I’ve been known to like musicals. I’ve been known to like historical fiction. I don’t know that I’ve ever liked them combined. This movie is not for me.

  12. Nice review Fogs. I’m a big fan of Les Mis so I’ll definitely be checking this out but it definitely does have a dodgy third act, it just gets a bit messy. As for the constant singing, that’s always been a part of Les Mis in musical form but I can understand how it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Looking forward very much to seeing Jackman and Hathaway but from what I’ve seen, Crowe doesn’t seem like he fits the bill for Javert at all, particularly in the vocal department.

    • LOL Crowe…. has a pretty deep voice. 😀 He does alright I guess, I have nothing to compare it to.

      If you’re a fan, already, you might like this more than I do. I mean, I’ve never seen it this was my first time… but if you’ve seen it once in another version and you enjoyed it, you might have a leaning towards the material that I didnt.

      The third act killed me… I honestly think I could have given this flick an A range grade at the end of the “Master of the House” segment. Unfortunately, it went on an hour + longer after that and that part was all downhill for me!

  13. Good review, Fogs. I haven’t experienced any form of Les Miserables either, and I suspect my feelings would largely mirror your own. Fun fact? This isn’t the longest film version by a long shot. The 1934 version, directed by Raymond Bernard, is 281 minutes long — just short of five hours. They were showing it on TCM a few weeks back, but I didn’t have the nerve to try it.

    • Holy shit.

      “Third Intermission”

      LOL. I guess if it were like a tv series or a mini series and it went on for five one hour episodes I could take five hours of it. Not if they were singing like this though. Just if they were telling the straight up story. 😀

  14. Cool review! I`m definitely going to see this some time this week. Not sure when since we already missed seeing The Hobbit..haha! This is one of my absolutely favorite Broadway musicals and I`m ready for all that singing because it looks absolutely epic. I watch the 25th anniversary Broadway of Les Miserables all the time and its about the same length as the movie so I think I`m ready for it 🙂

    • Aww. You missed the Hobbit? Damn!


      If you love the musical, you’ll probably love this then. It IS Epic. I’ll tell you that right now, I have a hard time imagining they left anything OUT. LOL.

      You sound in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, I hope you do. I will say I really thought Jackman and Hathaway were incredible. I think Hathaway takes home an Oscar for this. For real, seriously, she’s that good.

  15. I was actually impressed by Crowe. Not really in terms of singers in general or anything, but just because I was thinking if any of them were going to ruin the movie it would be him and he didn’t. So that was nice.
    I haven’t seen Les Mis in any form minus reading like the first two pages of the book (it was a pretty slow start), but I also found the music itself not particularly enjoyable. I like musicals and singing in general, but I think having them sing practically all their lines detracted from the moments when the singing was REALLY meant for emotional effect. I’m sorry, you can’t try to make the gut-wrenching emotion come through every single line. And then there was the music itself, it just wasn’t very melodic. There are only a couple songs that I could maybe remember… but generally VERY rambley music, “a run on sentence” as you say.
    Agree with you 100% on Jackman and Hathaway. They were fantastic. Despite the music, I thought that the overall film was still really good and I really liked it.

    • Yup. Glad someone else agrees about the music. I mean, I still thought it was a decent movie, and I’d cautiously recommend it (to patient people, inclined towards musicals, LOL) but… I had to call out some of the things that really bugged me.

      And yeah, kudos to Crowe for not botching the whole thing, I guess, huh? LOL 😀

  16. I know what you mean about the 3rd act, Fogs, but I didn’t mind it so much. honestly. But I see your point.

    At least I wasn’t the only one to experience Les Mis for the first time with this movie! high five! haha.

    Gotta point out here though that the movie is 2hr and 29mins long, since you mentioned 2hr and 40mins twice. Tom Hooper was adamant in the interview I linked to in my review in pointing out that the movie is under 2hrs and 30mins because he went to great lengths to do so. 🙂

    • IMDb has it listed at 157 minutes, Wikipedia at 160. Credits? Maybe he’s not counting credits? I mean, whatever… still felt like both equinoxes passed while I was in there. LOL.

      Yeah, pre-blogging, this wouldnt be the type of thing I’d seek out. But now that I’m grinding, you know how it is. LOL 😀 So, first time… not exactly a charm. Had its moments though.

  17. You seem to have a very similar opinion to my own. I love musicals but being a movie guy I’ m more used to songs and acting as opposed to songs as acting. I need a melody and an occasional chorus. There are maybe three places where there are real complete songs. I was more moved by the ninety second trailer than the two hour forty minute film (even if it was less it felt like more). Still there is much to admire. I think familiarity might make it work better. I’ ‘ll be trying it again.

    • Yeah, the structure free singing really got to me, that was the biggest complaint I had.

      The run time was a close second though. I understand that “That’s the story”, but you’ve got to find a way to either keep it interesting throughout or trim it down and keep it tight.

      Early portions of the movie were great, I thought I would wind up loving it at the 30 minute minute mark or so, but I changed my mind before the end… I dont envision it getting many chances to redeem itself…. from me. I think in my case, I may be as familiar as I’ll ever get.

      I mean, decent enough if people are inclined to it, but… not for me.

  18. I’m not familiar with the musical but I read the source novel, it actually swings back and forth and if I remember correctly there are actually three main arcs, the one between Marius and that chick in love with him being the last ^^ Not surprised it doesn’t really work here, I think things like that work in books but in 2 or 3-hour long movie there really should be one or two main characters tops that carry the story.

    The singing may bug me a little, so I’ve been listening to soundtrack to prepare myself. Man, Anne Hathaway’s singing just breaks my heart.

    • Oh, she was incredible. Honestly… just unreal. Wait’ll you see that song, it’ll break your heart. I think it actually may backfire a little because she’s SO freaking good that nothing else in the movie compares. LOL.

      Anyways, yes, that was my main complaint is that it felt like a “Switcheroo” at the end there, substituting in Marius and his love for Cosette and the revolution and whatnot. 😦

      If you can get past the free form singing though, you’ll most likely be ok with it. Prep work sounds like a good plan of attack! LOL

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