Review: Les Miserables

Poster for 2013 musical film Les Misérables

Genre: Musical
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 11th January 2013
Runtime: 157 minutes
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried
Synopsis: On his release, a prisoner decides to break parole and create a new life. He is pursued by a ruthless lawman as France erupts into revolution.



Tom Hooper’s adaptation of hugely popular musical Les Misérables has been one of the most hyped movies of this awards season, with it winning at the Golden Globes and being tipped for success at the 2013 Oscars. Its major selling point is that the performers did all their singing on set and that it was recorded live rather than in a studio. Unfortunately, that’s just about where the fun starts and ends.

The problem with Les Misérables is that, from start to finish, it feels like it would be better back on the stage.  Moments such as Russell Crowe’s last song and the kinetic Master of the House are suited to the stage perfectly and, whilst they aren’t rubbish, they do lose some of their impact as Hooper desperately tries to make them cinematic.

Tom Hooper is a bit of a running problem throughout the film as he does everything in his power to justify the musical making the move from stage to screen. His camera flies around the sets with annoying regularity and most of every song is shot in irritating close-up. Initially, both of those things are novel and interesting for Les Misérables, but they wear thin very quickly. The close-ups are particularly silly and do work in some situations – notably during Anne Hathaway’s spellbinding rendition of I Dreamed a Dream – but mostly just draw attention to how little emotion musical theatre actors put into their faces: it’s all in their voices.

The cast though, are mostly great. Musical theatre veteran Hugh Jackman is stunning as Jean Valjean and his supporting cast are just as strong, with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter adding welcome comic relief amidst the depressing plot. Anne Hathaway is the film’s surprise package as Fantine, bringing emotional depth as well as a remarkable singing voice. The brief period she is on the screen shows Les Misérables at its best.

Russell Crowe, however, almost manages to kill Les Misérables entirely with his vocally bereft portrayal of lawman Javert. Amongst the vocal talent, he is hugely out of his depth and, through his performance, it seems he knows that.

The other issues are mainly things that are down to the transition from stage to screen. The lack of an interval leads to pacing problems and the French people with Cockney accents comes across as ridiculous on screen.

Anyone with a burning desire to see Les Misérables should really seek out a theatre.


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