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Les Miserables - Film review

Les Miserables

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

NO ONE can fault Tom Hooper’s sense of ambition. Having shot to prominence off the back of his Oscar winning success, The King’s Speech, the director now looks to follow it up with a monumentally ambitious undertaking.

For while Les Miserables may be one of the most popular and enduring stage shows of all-time, transferring it to the big screen is far from easy. And Hooper’s attempt is far from perfect.

Admittedly, a large part of the film’s ability to impress lies with how much you like musicals. It is 90% (if not more) sung. But even then, the decision to opt for a cast of well-known stars rather than tried and tested singers may grate on those who relish their musicals.

By asking them to perform the songs live, too, constitutes an even bigger risk (or folly).

Hence, the ability of Les Miserables to impress in spite of its flaws is all the more pronounced. It is a spectacular achievement in many ways.

Visually, it captivates even when the singing does fail, while the story grips and several of the performances do amaze.

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the story essentially follows the life of a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-convict who finds prosperity through good deeds but who must constantly exist in the shadow of the inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), who would look to punish him for failing to honour the terms of his freedom.

Intertwined with his fate is that of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and her daughter Cosette, the latter of whom Valjean ‘adopts’ from childhood and cares for through later life.

In Hugh Jackman, Hooper has found a near-perfect Jean Valjean, such is the determination and humility the actor brings to the role. And while he can’t quite match the vocal prowess of the tenors who have previously occupied the role (step forward Alfie Boe or even fellow cast member Colm Wilkinson), he can carry a tune and is capable of stirring the emotions during the big moments.

Strong, too, is Hathaway as Fantine, stripped of dignity and glamour in her few scenes yet utterly compelling and heartbreaking in the extreme (never more so than during her show-stopping rendition of I Dreamed A Dream).

Of note, too, are Les Mis veterans Colm Wilkinson, as the bishop who befriends and saves Valjean, and Samantha Barks, as Éponine, who makes the leap from stage to screen in emphatic fashion, as well as Eddie Redmayne, who genuinely can be said to be giving Marius his all (his version of Empty Chairs And Tables was his 21st take!).

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (veterans of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd) also bring an infectious energy, and a nice mix of sleaze and comedy, to the roles of the canniving Thénardier and Madame Thénardier.

Hence, in look, design and a lot of the performances Les Miserables wins you over and more than compensates for the elements that leave room for criticism.

Of these, the running time is generous and not all of the singing feels entirely necessary… especially in the quieter moments that almost feel unnaturally caught between sung and spoken.

Some of the performances struggle to convince entirely, too, with Russell Crowe a particular talking point. He isn’t bad (in a Pierce Brosnan/Mama Mia) kind of way, but he does struggle during the big numbers despite bringing a gravitas to Javert based more on past performances and his ability to act without words.

Amanda Seyfried, too, feels a little lightweight as the older Cosette and fails to ignite the necessary sparks with Redmayne.

But taken as a whole, Les Miserables hits more than it misses and is a worthwhile undertaking for everyone concerned, musical loving viewers included.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 157mins
UK Release Date: January 11, 2013