If you enjoy the Les Misérables musical productions, musicals in general, or classic adventure tales, then you'll want to see the 2012 film adptation of Les Misérables. It’s hard to think of a more well-known musical. The stageshow has been going for some 25 years, and a film adaptation, starring Liam Neeson, premiered in 1998. Still, many young people are unfamiliar with it. Les Misérables, the 2012 film, is an attempt to reimagine the classic tale as a grandiose, Hollywood musical spectacle, and to introduce a new audience to the Les Misérables universe. For the most part, it’s a success on both counts.
For those who don’t know the story of Les Misérables, it centres on the story of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for 19 years and forever branded as a criminal for stealing bread. After feeling responsible for the death of single mother Fantine, he takes her daughter Cosette as his own while evading capture from the persistent policeman Javert. It’s an exciting adventure; heartwrenching, humorous, over the top (it is a musical) and thoroughly enjoyable.
The cast for the film was strong, ranging from decent to excellent. Hugh Jackman was brilliant as Valjean: warm, heroic and troubled. Russell Crowe’s stone-faced, rigid take on Javert served the character well, but whether it was intentional or just a result of bad acting was unclear. The best performance, though, came from Anne Hathaway’s brief turn as Fantine, her tearjerking rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ the film’s highlight. Weaker performances came during the film’s second half. Amanda Seyfried as the adult Cosette is pretty and inoffensive, but Eddie Redmayne as the young hero Marius, was too one-dimensional for such a big role. The Thérnardiers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, were a mixed bag. Cohen was typically bumbling and crass, though he did have moments of genuine darkness, while Helena Bonham Carter does what she does in every movie. Still, the film did benefit from their comic relief.
There were a few problems with the way the film was put together, though. The pacing was very uneven, with some key plot events and emotional experiences happening so quickly it was difficult to take in. Also uneven was the cinematography: some scenes, like the opening sequence, were absolutely beautiful. Other scenes, though, were shot in a strangely cramped way: Javert and Valjean’s stirring performance of The Confrontation, for example, felt like it deserved a much grander backdrop than a drab hospital room.
All this being said, however, none of these problems were so much as to make the film unenjoyable. The film is enthralling, and it’s substantially long running time ﹣ almost three hours ﹣ absolutely breezed past. Being a musical film, it is grandiose and over the top, almost ridiculously so. But, if you are so inclined towards musicals, you’ll absolutely enjoy it. Even if you don’t, you might surprise yourself. Les Misérables is a great film, recommendable to just about anyone.