Movie Review: “Les Miserables”

ImageHere it is, “Occupy Movement: The Musical,” the French musical “Les Miserables” preaching economic revolution, the downtrodden rising up against the wealthy few and a police force hellbent on defending the status quo.

hughWell, that and the virtues of mercy and compassion.

Tom “The King’s Speech” Hooper brings this worldwide phenomenon to the screen with its majestic music and emotional weight intact. He takes the film outdoors and gives us a raw, sometimes wrenching remembrance of how unjust, how hungry and how bloody, dirty and smelly France was in the post-Napoleonic decades that one man spends on the run from his nemesis.

Victor Hugo’s epic is about an ex-con, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), hardened by decades of imprisonment, converted by one great act of kindness but pursued, doggedly, by the fanatical police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean gains purpose and compassion, but Javert is blinded by his pursuit, a man not in search of justice – merely exploiting the letter of the law.

Valjean fails to save the pathetic and persecuted prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway), but resolves to provide for her daughter, the curly-locked Cosette (Isabelle Allen, and later Amanda Seyfried). And when the time comes, Valjean will put his life on the line for Cosette’s first love, the young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

The emotions are as big as the set-pieces, from the opening – convicts hauling a huge, battered ship into drydock, singing “Look down, look down, you’ll always be a slave, look down, look down, you’re standing in your grave,” and Javert bellowing  “Do not forget me, [prisoner] 24601” to Javert – to the climax, the stirring call to survive and revolt, “One Day More.”

Hooper had the actors sing live, on set, which gives this sung-through musical a lived-in feel. He shoots much of this grey and grimy world with hand-held cameras, adding to the immediacy.

The actors acquit themselves admirably, with Jackman’s Broadway tenor rubbed rough and Crowe’s gruff baritone showing range. He kind of blows Javert’s big moment – when he realizes the injustice of his ways. But everything else about him – his military bearing, his horsemanship, screams Javert.

An emaciated Hathaway is properly heartbreaking as Fantine, Redmayne (“My Week With Marilyn”) is in fine voice and the comic relief – Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as the corrupt innkeepers who “take care” of the young Cosette — are as adept with their big “Master of the House” number as they are the comedy.

The best voice in the cast belongs to Samantha Barks, as Eponine, that couple’s adult daughter, tragically pining for Marius, who loves the blonde Cosette, given a shrill trill by “Mamma Mia’s” Seyfried.

The singing children, Allen and Daniel Huttlestone as the streetwise boy Gavroche, are lyric wonders, with Huttlestone’s performance crying out for an “Oliver!” revival.

Here’s the one holiday film to justify its two and a half hour running time, a spectacle that feels like a big screen “event,” though the “shaky cam” moments rob the barricades, where the revolutionaries stand against the army, of their scale and grandeur.

Hooper & Co. have made this modern musical in-the-moment relevant, a film that doesn’t pretty up the past but that brings that past, where the heroic, the tragic, the villainous and the mean sing their emotions, stirringly to life. “Les Miserables” is one of the year’s best films.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne

Credits: Directed by Tom Hooper, scripted by William Nicholson, based on the stage musical. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Movie Review: “Les Miserables”

  1. Are you so desperate to find something to praise Russell Crowe with that you are actually using his “horsemanship?” That’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. This isn’t a damn movie about riding horses!

    • Dear “Beaugard,”
      Watch “Django Unchained.” An actor put on horseback who looks like he doesn’t belong there — common in this post-Western era — is a real buzz kill. Check out Jamie Foxx and especially Jonah Hill. It’s a question of presence, and confidence and competence.

  2. Sal says:

    Actually very little in common with Occupy movement. This movie is about the human spirit, redemption and love, not hate, envy and voluntary servitude to an administration that the occupy radicals represent.
    The choice to use live singing was a good one, it really captures the moment much better than a sterile studio recording.
    Definitely a good watch. I enjoyed the movie as much as the musical live on stage.

    • John says:

      I agree – I didn’t care for the Occupy analogy at all. The Occupy people are mostly spoiled young adults looking to scratch something off their bucket list (“Item 5: Stage Political Protest”). The revolutionaries in Paris in 1832 were struggling against genuine tyranny and oppression, while Valjean is a man who finds faith in God and reforms himself.

      • The “Occupy” reference is a zeitgeist connection and undeniable, given the film’s timing. The reference seems to resonate with younger viewers and rile up older ones. So there it is.

      • Andrew says:

        “The Occupy people are mostly spoiled young adults looking to scratch something off their bucket list (“Item 5: Stage Political Protest”).”

        Wow. Is this misconception/denial of reality really still surviving? Roger is right. You must be old and out of touch.
        If you truly think the Occupy movement is just a bunch of spoiled young brats, then you might want to die soon before your perception of reality gets the good punch in the face it needs. This movement will not die soon because it is exactly what you agree Les Miserables is depicting: the many rising up against genuine tyranny and oppression. If you can’t see how that applies to modern-day western culture, then congratulations… it’s worked on you. But for those it doesn’t work on, political protests aren’t just a cross off the to-do list. They’re a desperate last-resort, since reasoning with those, like you, who deny the reality of the down-trodden and stare down your noses at them like they’re not worth your time or attention hasn’t worked.
        If this was just some hollow rebellion based on superficial desires for “standing up to the man”… would you not expect them to turn tail and run when the police show up with riot gear, tear gas and pepper-spray? It wouldn’t be worth it, would it? But they’ve endured. They keep standing up and making an effort to get their message out there. Seems like more than just some hollow tantrum to me. Seems like they might actually have something to say.

        Imagine in the time depicted in Les Miserables… a pampered old socialite, sipping tea and gossiping about whoever… sees a crowd of revolutionaries fly past the window being shot at by the police… and declares, “Oh, those spoiled young brats, ruining my tea time. I do hope the police catch them and make them stop interfering in MY important life!”… You see the hypocritical self-righteousness in such a person, right? So why can’t you see it in that disgusting post you made?

      • I do like to be agreed with, on occasion. Happens so seldom at home.

      • Margaret F says:

        I agree — the struggle that the revolutionaries in Paris went through in 1832 had nothing in common with the spoiled brats of the current “Occupy” movement. Loved the movie and will see it again.

      • Carolyn says:

        How do you know who the Occupy “spoiled young adults” were or what they thought? Were you there with them giving voice to the discontent of this generation? I’m 69 and was with them. I found them thoughtful, articulate, compassionate and more responsive to the plight of people who are poor than most of the society. When human beings take a stand, giving voice and action to make the world a more just, compassionate place, it is always a “Les Miserables” moment…whether they win or lose.

  3. Pingback: Les Misérables Movie Review | New Movie Launches - New Movie Releases, The Latest Films

  4. blake says:

    Actually, I think Mr. Simon is quite right about the “Occupy” connection. It’s hard not to compare this movie with that movement at this moment in time—even if there is no actual connection intended. Though the connection could have been made without even slightly taking sides.

    Just as one could say “the downtrodden rising up against the wealthy few and a police force hellbent on defending the status quo” one could also say “Rich person pretending solidarity with the downtrodden gets a lot of them killed for no particular reason, with no apparent plan or popular support.”


    One wonders if he mentioned OWS in any “Dark Knight Rises” review he might have done, of course.

  5. authorbiopic says:

    So, it’s agreed! OWS will die in a cannonade while crouching behind a pile of furniture, with only the leader to be spared by an old fugitive who spent 20 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread.

    • And America, crippled by the unpatriotic, greedy, sedentary oligarchy, will fall to, oh, Mexico, in the North American version of the Franco-Prussion War of 1870-71.

      • blake says:

        I would’ve chosen a less dark end, preferably a peppy musical number. o/~But whatever they offer you, don’t feed the plants!~\o

  6. Makwa says:

    I agree completely with your review, though I think you may have given too much credit to Seyfried’s Cossette. While Crowe missed his end scene, his character wasn’t as much a disappointment as Seyfried’s. She was completely unremarkable, straining for her notes. Crowe hit his notes at least. And while he can indeed ride, sadly, the sound effects team missed a point that only the rest of us who ride will notice. When riding through the tunnel of people, Crowe is posting a trot while the sound is of horses cantering on pavement.

  7. Royce says:

    The Occupy reference did “rile” me up also, as you say, but not because I’m old (I’m guessing I’m younger than you), not because I’m upper- or even middle-class (I’m not), and not because I have a particular axe to grind with the Occupy movement (I don’t). It riled me up because I love the book and the musical and have a deep appreciation for the messages of each. The primary struggles in Les Miserables revolve around the conflict of justice and mercy, the possibility of redemption, the power of forgiveness, and a person’s ascension to a moral life. Marius and his comrades are ultimately understood in the context of the piece as nothing more nor less than passionate, well-intentioned, yet naive boys who have not learned how to affect positive change in their own lives or the lives of others (hence, why Marius needs a savior in the form of Jean Valjean). Whether this is akin to the Occupy Movement, I’ll leave you to decide, but to frame the entire piece in terms of the violent conflict between these boys and the Parisian troops entirely misses its heart and purpose and the deeper conflicts that led Hugo to write his original. You are focusing on the medium, not the message. One might just as well depict Moby Dick as “Whale Slaughter: A Novel” or A Tale of Two Cities as “How to Lead a Successful Coup.” Moby Dick is not about whales. A Tale of Two Cities is not about regicide. And Les Miserables is not about class warfare.

    Though I should stop there, I must also take exception to your depiction of Javert. You are incorrect in saying that he is “not in search of justice – merely exploiting the letter of the law.” Javert is perfect justice. His presence in the piece makes clear the inadequacy of justice to raise mankind to a moral and happy life. Javert exploits nothing for his own gain. He seeks for nothing but justice. Javert’s internal struggle revolves around reconciling mercy with justice. Ultimately, he cannot understand how the two fit together, recognizes that justice alone, which comprises his entire world, brings only darkness, and thus invites his willing end. Javert is a tragic character locked in (what he believes to be) a noble pursuit, not a villain megalomaniacally defending the status quo.

    • Javert is more tragic when he’s noble. I didn’t take that away from the film, a point which I made in the review. A flaw in Crowe’s interpretation/playing of his transformation.
      Art is subject to the interpretation of the times it is created in. I am reviewing the movie –2012-13. Victor Hugo? Not so much. Not even the ’80s, when the French play premiered.
      Consider, for a moment, the various films of the book. They, too, reflect their times. Javerts and Valjeans wax and wane in their humanity/nobility, etc.
      The musical became a practical idea for a film with filmmakers who had a “take” on it now, not 30 years ago. The reason? Relevance. The zeitgeist. Occupy. Ignoring that makes you come off as, well, missing the point.

      • Royce says:

        It seems dubious to claim that one must accept that Occupy is an essential element of the zeitgeist in order to appreciate the artistry or message of a 2012-13 rendition of Les Miserables. One might just as easily claim that recent prostitution scandals (e.g., Secret Service, Spitzer, Zumba, etc.) are part of the zeitgeist and have led us to take an interest in musicals about prostitutes or that the high single-parent rate in the US has led us to take an interest in musicals about the plight of single parents raising children (i.e. Fantine and Valjean). Yes, art exists in a cultural context, but picking and choosing a specific aspect of the current culture as a vantage point for interpretation says much more about you than it does about the zeitgeist or the piece, because in so doing, you are categorizing the zeitgeist into important and unimportant elements.

        Another reviewer could rewrite your opening line as follows:
        “Here it is, “Prostitute Mama: The Musical,” the French musical “Les Miserables” preaching forced prostitution and a police force hellbent on defending the status quo.”

        Or as follows:
        “Here it is, “Single Dad: The Musical,” the French musical “Les Miserables” preaching father-daughter involvement, protection, and isolationism amidst a raucous world.”

        Merely saying that you are operating from “the zeitgeist” does not cut it, because such a view does not account for the cultural fragmentation of the age and blinds you to your own biases.

        If you use Occupy as your lens for understanding an adaptation of an old and immensely popular musical, which was itself an adaptation of an old and immensely popular novel, then, yes, I most certainly am “missing [your] point,” because I think that such a lens would end up being quite myopic and misdirected: it overemphasizes Occupy in the zeitgeist and does not focus on the central conflict of the piece. The sweeping social revolution aspect of the story is arguably little more than the setting for the real conflicts, which are interpersonal and internal, and if you are going to choose a cultural lens of interpretation, I think it would be wiser to choose one that focused on the central message of the piece.

        Finally, I apologize if you judge these posts as “patronizing rants.” That is, nonetheless, your interpretation and not my intent as the author.

      • Sorry, this was too windy and silly to reply to straight away. EVERYthing is a product of its times. “300” is connected to East/West conflict post-9/11, “Flipped” to Baby Boomer values lost between generations, etc.
        And since I can’t even tell that you’ve even bothered to see the movie, well, grind your axe someplace else.

  8. David says:

    Every time Russel Crowe sang, I wanted to cover my ears.

  9. Occupy was and is about a great deal more than many of the commenters here seem to think. In fact, the abuses of our criminal justice system have been loudly decried by these “spoiled brats” among whom I have proudly stood, chanted, and marched (despite being 35, having a full time job, and two kids… but then, many of my fellow Occupiers fail to match the stereotypes heaped upon them).

    I thoroughly enjoyed the (very topical) movie, and if Russell Crowe nor Amanda Seyfried particularly wowed me, neither did they detract from the stunning performances around them. Having read this book at the age of eleven, I believe owe thanks to Mr. Hugo for helping awaken me to the timeless realities of social injustice.

  10. arguablyargumentative says:

    I feel for you, Mr. Moore. Your connection is completely valid, insomuch as the current political struggles of the day are reflected in art describing the political struggles of yore; as the cliche goes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Unfortunately, western society is so politically divided that the connection is lost on those with such narrows views as to dismiss the relevance of anything they disagree with. The outlandish and comedic depictions of people that one disagrees with on the internet is always incendiary and short-sighted, to say the least. My only fear is that this line was written with the knowledge that citing current political conflict might potentially drum up more of a viewership, but I try to suppress that cynicism in favor of taking what people say at face value.

    Regardless, I have yet to see the movie, though I’m familiar with the play. I’ve wanted to see it since I saw that it was coming out, but you have further inspired me to give it a try. Thank you for your review!

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  12. rory says:

    I feel that Mr. Royce is being misunderstood. While the parallel to Occupy did not irk me – in as much as ‘reviews’, even at their best, exist to either pique enthusiasm (by way of pop metaphor) or subvert interest (by employing much the same tactic) – I also felt it was not the central theme of either the book or the MUSICAL or this FILM. Yes, Royce may have spent more time cleverly venting against the premise of the review than building a case for why he thought the film’s central theme was ” the conflict of justice and mercy, the possibility of redemption, the power of forgiveness”, but he is nevertheless right in his assertion. It may not sound as charismatic as Roger’s approach, but it is closer to the mark. Of course, I also didn’t get a sense that Royce actually took the time to ever watch the film prior to stating that which applies more specifically to the original novel. Arguablyargumentative’s point seems palatable in that I also felt that these comment boards become more of a forum for showing off than having legitimate gripes; but then again, the world of publishing is a privileged one and people write where they can. In other words, ‘So what’.
    In short, I like Roger’s review but I also happen to think Royce’s comments are on the mark and not just rambling or nitpicking. And no, this is not the appeasing: ‘yes, they are both right… I love you all’ notion – but in this case, I see no contradictions between their POV on the film. What I do see is Royce using the medium to flaunt his understanding of the material (so what’s wrong with that?) and Roger taking it very personally (an understandable reaction).
    Did I like the film as much as either of the two did? Probably not. For the simple reason that I think musicals live or die by 2 criteria: (1) is the music itself interesting enough (2) does the rendition evoke nuances unseen in previous versions. In my opinion, this is mediocre on both accounts. That said, it’s a fun film given you like the Broadway musical.

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