Adapted from the classic novel by Victor Hugo, as well as the successful musical stage show, Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, X-Men, Australia), an ex-convict who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, but broke his parole and is pursued by lawman Javert (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, Robin Hood). Set in 19th Century France and spanning several years, the film follows Valjean’s and Javert’s game of cat-and-mouse, meeting the impoverished Fantine (Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises, The Devil Wears Prada) and her daughter Cosette (who grows up to be Amanda Seyfried, Mama Mia!, Gone). All of this culminates in the 1832 June Rebellion, which is led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne, My Week with Marilyn).
True to its roots, almost all of Les Misérables is sung. Now, this will split audiences: some will love it, others will hate. Personally, I didn’t really mind it and the quality of the singing overall wasn’t that bad. But after a while, the fact that everything is sung starts to get tedious, especially as the film drags on for about 2-and-a-half hours. However there are some really catchy songs hidden among the forgettable ones.
Some critics are raving about the performance that Hathaway gives, but I felt that it was a little overrated and she was only in the film for what felt like only half an hour. I also disagree with the way that people criticise Crowe’s Javert; I felt he gave a much more human tone to the character. But I can see why people are applauding Hugh Jackman: I was surprised that Wolverine could give such an operatic display.
Most of the best performances in the film go under the radar. Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, The Dictator) and Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech) inject some much needed humour as M. et Mme. Thérnardier, the scavenging innkeepers. Samantha Barks, in her breakthrough performance, gives a stunning portrayal of Éponine, the unrequited love of Marius. This is a counter-balance to the ridiculously cheesy, love-at-first-sight story between Marius and Cosette, which is quite unbelievable. Speaking of unbelievablity, since when did post-revolutionary France become East London? This isn’t a problem with the lead roles, but most of the minor characters seem to be rejects from Eastenders, with their dodgy Cockney accents (Bon-jawer guv’nor! My name’s Gav-Rosh!).
On the whole, Les Misérables is a mixed bag. It has just as much positives as negatives. A good analogy of this can be described by one of the film’s songs: ‘One Day More’. At times, it works really well with the intertwining storylines, at others, different actors are shouting over each other, leaving the better performances ignored. But all in all, Les Misérables still manages to tell a good, if a little long, story.