Les Miserables (2012)

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Les Miserables. Some detested it and some loved it. The film is so unashamedly committed to its theatrical roots that a case can be made for either side. I think it is a great musical and a magnificent hybrid of over-the-top Broadway extravagance and large-scale Hollywood production (though the film was made in the U.K.). But be warned: if you’re not a fan of either one, this is not the film to win you over.

The average musical has a few good songs, many average or mediocre ones, and some bad ones. However, there really isn’t one poor song in Les Mis and there arguably isn’t a mediocre one either. Not only does the movie repeat melodies effectively and overlap voices with skill, the songs build complex situations and moral dilemmas that are charged with emotion and conviction. In a film flooded with hundreds of actors and extras, the audience is presented with characters that face that age-old dilemma of struggling to do the right thing despite the circumstances in which they live. Because of this, Les Miserables is real and truthful in its depiction of human nature and emotions.

As many will know, the cast sings each song live. Their voices are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but do they have to be? The way their voices waver and fade into whispers adds power to their words that seems at home among the dirt, grime, and emotional turmoil of the French Revolution. Say what you want about Russell Crowe, but the entire cast rises to the occasion here. Despite singing live on the set and being filmed in close-up almost constantly, each performance is convincing and appropriate.

The first hour of Les Mis is excellently paced and the story is set-up in the most efficient way possible (considering that musical numbers are required). During this time, there is no lingering between scenes and each sequence connects seamlessly to the next. However, the film delays slightly when it introduces a love story and a handful of additional characters. It may not be enough to distract from the appeal of the story, but my only major criticism of the film is its nearly three hour runtime. Even though it would have been difficult for an adaptation like this to avoid such a length, the runtime will surely be a test of patience for many.

I have not seen the play on which Les Mis is based, or read the book by which the play was inspired. This screen adaptation obviously is heavily influenced by its theatrical source, yet the film finds a suitable balance between the theater and the cinema. Adapting musical theatre productions into movies may seem like a pointless exercise at times. Nonetheless, Les Miserables has about everything that one could want from a musical. There have only been a select few musicals of the past decade of cinema that can compete with the emotional experience that this one offers.

A-

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24 responses to “Les Miserables (2012)

  1. Glad you liked this, I thought it was great. It’s run time is an issue though. At about the 2 hr 15 min mark, things start to lag a little, but that’s as much a problem with the play as well. The second half just isn’t as fast paced as the first and most of the slower songs are in the second half. Also, with the stage show, you’d have an interval, which breaks it up nicely.
    I really wasn’t convinced with Crowe to be honest, he really sounded like he was straining at times, but that didn’t stop me enjoying it.
    Nice review man.

    • The length is definitely the major issue, though I’m not sure it really could have been avoided. A short break in the middle might have helped make it more bearable for some

      Crowe did have one of the weaker voices in the cast. However, I can’t say that I disliked him in the role. It certainly does sound like he’s straining at times though.

  2. I’m with you, a lot of people were needlessly cruel to the movie. And Russell Crowe didn’t bother me; he really captured Javert’s brute obsessiveness. Excellent review.

    • I know there are plenty of people who hate it. Because of aspects such as the constant singing and the lengthy runtime, you either buy into it or you don’t. As for Crowe, I thought he did fine. His voice isn’t great, but I thought that he captured the character well. Thanks!

  3. I ended up liking this film a lot more the second time around, after I had gotten used to the songs and the “operatic” way they would basically be singing their lines.
    I also think having an intermission would have done the film a world of good. Coming from the stage there’s a clear spot for it too. When I saw this in theaters for the first time me and my friends did this and Django in one day so we wouldn’t have to drive out two days and a row and that was A LONG day lol.
    Still, I really liked the film. I’m glad somebody still makes movies musicals, even if they are stage adaptations. They’re a dying breed these days.

    • I imagine that Les Mis and Django made for an awesome double-feature! I’m sure it was draining though, they’re both incredibly long. I’m glad you were able to like it regardless. Like you said, there aren’t many musicals made nowadays and the few that do come around usually aren’t very good. I do honestly think that there’s still some unrealized potential in the genre and that films like 2007’s Once and stage adaptations like Les Mis are an indicator of it.

  4. I don’t know how anyone could dislike it! It’s a universal story and marvelously done. It’s only Helena Bonham Carter that grates on my nerves lately. Someone should stomp on her round blue glasses….

    • Yeah, I agree with you. I love it, but every film has its critics I suppose. Les Mis just seems to have a few more than most.

      Stomp on her glasses!? What’s wrong with Bonham Carter?

      • LOL. I reckon I ought to write a blog about her. She’s one of those actresses for whom I had much admiration as a British actress when she played in roles, say, The King’s Speech. Then she hooked up with Tim Burton and I feel like she’s become a stock character. She plays the witchy-villianess very well, but it’s now become her trademark role. She plays it all the time and she has lost her ability to thrill me. Now I see her in many films wearing stupid glasses, either round blue or like in Alice in Wonderland they were red–I find when she’s in a film I look for her glasses instead of watching her act….I would lay a fiver down right now that in the upcoming Lone Ranger, she will be wearing glasses! ;)

        • Ha ha! I had noticed before that she’s been playing similar roles recently too, but I guess I haven’t thought about it that much. I’m sure I’ll be looking for those glasses now every time that I see her! :)

    • Thanks! I’m glad we agree on this one. It sure did take a beating from some and that’s really too bad. It’s just one of those movies that people usually end up having pretty strong feelings about.

  5. Great review. I was worried going into this that not being familiar with the source, and faced with the imposing running time, I would be bored. But I loved it, and didn’t notice the running time at all actually.

    • I actually felt that way as well beforehand and I was completely blown away. I watched it again recently to write this review and that’s when I began to notice the runtime a bit more. Thanks!

  6. Read the book and saw the stage play. Also own the soundtrack and VHS tape of Les Mis in concert. Have not seen the movie yet! Do you remember the movie with Liam Neeson and Claire Danes?? SUCH a faithless adaptation!! But Uma rocked ;)

    • I never saw the one with Neeson in it, mostly because I never heard anything good about it. This one is quite good though and it seems to be pretty faithful to the play, so I highly recommend that you check it out. :) Guess you liked the book? It seems like one I’d be interested in reading sometime.

  7. Pingback: Movie Report Card: June 2013 | Cinema Train·

  8. I quite like musicals but I haven’t got around to this one yet. I almost watched it on the plane but my earphones don’t work properly so I can’t imagine listening to ALL that singing just from one ear. I think I prefer musicals with some dialog, so not every line is sung.

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