Film review: Les Miserables

From its acting to the way it was filmed, from the music to the sets, there was pretty much nothing about Les Miserables that didn’t impress me in some way or another.

Any review of Les Miserables could probably go on for thousands of words, as there’s so much to say about so many different things, but I’ll try not to go on for that long.

I confess, I’ve never seen the stage musical and I only had a vague inkling of the story of Les Miserables – there was a lot less Cosette and Fantine that I expected, and a lot more going on elsewhere. I think the film was a great introduction, and I’ll be trying to get to see the stage version as soon as I can (and have four hours spare).

Of everything, it’s the acting that really stands out. There are a lot of talented actors in this film, from the young children to the adults, from the unknowns to the famous names.

Everyone talks about Anne Hathaway, and it’s true, she is amazing. I’ve always been a fan (from way back in her Princess Diaries days), and I think she’s proved she can act, and act convincingly.

But I already knew how good she was going to be, from the many, many reviews. What I was surprised by was how good film was Samantha Barks, who plays the adult Eponine, was. Her longing looks towards Marius and her conflict over whether to tell him about Cosette leaving were almost painful to watch, and when she sang On My Own the tears started to gather. And in her final scene with Marius, I felt those tears threaten to spill over. It might not be the main story in the film, but that was what was great – every aspect, every plot, was treated with respect and acted as strongly as the central story.

Also amazing was Daniel Huttlestone, who played Gavroche. If he carries on like this, he’ll be a huge name by the time he’s an adult.

The strongest of the men, of course, is Hugh Jackman, who is likeable and draws our sympathy and admiration from the moment we meet him, and he never loses it.

But also good was Aaron Tveit, who I only previously know from his role as Trip Van Der Bilt in Gossip Girl (what a different role!), who is brilliant as Enjolras. He could probably have convinced Javert to follow him to the barricades if given the chance.

Apart from On My Own and the wonderful I Dreamed a Dream, most of my favourite songs were the large group numbers (although it’s hard to say any of the songs are weak). Red and Black was stirring and really served its purpose as a song to fire up the revolutionaries. Do You Hear the People Sing? was great, and particularly at the end, when I found myself again with tears in my eyes. Master of the House was a fun number and a great contrast to the gloomier aspects of the film. Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen’s characters might have been disgusting, but the only tears to be shed while watching them were tears of laughter.

The rebellion, gosh, the rebellion. How could you fail to be on the side of these men, and women, and children? I was on the edge of my seat during every scene featuring the students, and others, and their battle. Director Tom Hooper’s decision to show bird’s eye views on occasion really worked – seeing Marius and Enjolras and their band of men as the only barricade in the French streets as soldiers closed in on them from all sides sent chills of fear down my spine.

The only down side to the film was that it was a tad long, but still a lot shorter than the stage musical. I don’t really know what I would have cut out, since everything shown was a firm part of the story, but I did find myself getting a little restless from time to time.

One of the friends I went to see the film with hated the constant close ups of people’s faces, but I actually liked that, and thought the high level of acting was shown through the fact that you could see every twitch, every line. Lesser actors wouldn’t have been able to be so convincing with cameras in their faces, but this group were outstanding. Every time the camera honed in on Hathaway’s tormented, hollowed face, I felt her pain and believed her Fantine was suffering.

And the live singing was impressive. Sure, it wasn’t always perfect, but it was as close as anyone could probably get, and the odd non-perfect note added to the experience.

I loved that the smaller human stories of love and greed were set against the backdrop of a revenge tale lasting decades and aspects of the June Rebellion. The story has so many layers and they all fit in well.

As one last point, and a confession, I kind of found Cosette boring. I understand that she was the trigger for a number of events in the film in one way or another, but as a character she’s much less interesting than Eponine say, or Fantine. Marius could also have fallen into the lovesick and boring trap, but luckily is redeemed by his revolutionary status and his interactions with other characters. Poor Amanda Seyfried just doesn’t get to do much as Cosette, although she is wonderful in her final scene with Jean Valjean.

Overall, Les Miserables was a great film, evidenced by the way I was still thinking about it and humming the songs the next day. As said earlier, I’ll be trying to get to the stage version, and I may even tackle Victor Hugo’s original book – although I’ll have to put any complaints about time to one side if I do.

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