Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Book to Film Review: Les Misérables

About the film
Les Misérables is a British musical drama film that was released at the cinema on 11th January 2013. The film is based on the musical of the same name, and the book of the same name by Victor Hugo. Les Misérables has a run time of 158 minutes and is rated 12A.

In 1815, prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean is granted parole after serving nineteen years for stealing some bread. However, it doesn’t take him long to get back to his old ways of stealing when a Bishop offers him food and shelter. After being caught, the Bishop once again offers Jean Valjean a chance to start over, to live a better life and become a better man. In order to do this though, he must break his parole conditions, leading prison guard Javert on a chase to track him down.

Eight years later, Jean Valjean has completely turned his life around. He is now the owner of a factory and they mayor of a town. One of his workers, Fantine, is forced into a life of prostitution to support her daughter being looked after by inn keepers elsewhere. She comes into some trouble with the law herself and when Javert is about to arrest her, Jean Valjean vows to look after her. Unfortunately though, Fantine is sick and as she is dying, Jean Valjean promised to go and get her daughter Cosette and take care of her.

Another nine years later, Cosette is all grown up, living a life constantly on the run from Javert with Jean Valjean. During a time where the poor are fighting back and the lead up to the June Rebellion, young Marius Pontmercy sets his eyes on Cosette and realises his life will never be the same, no matter the outcome of the battle to come.

What I thought
Although I have never read the book nor seen the musical stage version of this story, Les Misérables was one of the films that I was most looking forward to seeing this year, even with it being released right at the beginning of the year.

Les Misérables is a slightly different kind of musical film. In other musicals, the songs are pre-recorded and the actors sing in a studio then mime while filming. However, where Les Misérables differs is in the fact that all of the singing was done live. I found this to be an extraordinary thing to be done as I have never heard of it before. Knowing this before seeing the film, I did wonder about how well sung the film would be and how it would affect actor’s performances. Also, there is very little spoken throughout the film, maybe only a couple of lines. Because of this, you are sitting through a 2 and a half hour film that is full of singing.

Taking the main roles in Les Misérables are Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert. A lot has been said about these two and their performances. While neither are specifically known for their singing voices, they both do a fantastic job. Crowe has been slightly slated in reviews for not having the best voice but I actually really liked him. As Javert, he’s a mean kind of man who only does his job. I think that Crowe’s singing voice really suited the character and even though he wasn’t perfect, his gruff and deep voice made him seem even meaner to me. I definitely don’t think that Crowe deserves the slating that he’s been getting about his voice.

While I liked Crowe, Jackman was fantastic. As Crowe’s character Javert was a very emotionless character, he didn’t have to show too much in his performance and there is where he differs from Jackman. Jean Valjean is an extremely emotional man in many ways and this was something you could see on Jackman’s face throughout the film. Jackman also has a wonderful voice and one which he is able to use well while acting at the same time. I really liked Jean Valjean’s character as you were able to see so many changes in him over the course of the film. You really get to see how much he changes from his days serving a sentence to when he is the carer of Cosette.

I’m not the biggest fan of Anne Hathaway but I can see why she has been nominated for some many awards for Best Supporting Actress. She isn’t in the film for very long but she is truly unforgettable. As Fantine, Hathaway injects a serious sadness into her character and you can clearly see just how much of a struggle life is for her. There is also the unforgettable scene of her singing one of the best known songs for this film, I Dreamed a Dream. I don’t think I have ever seen someone perform a song with such emotion as Hathaway did and this scene was very moving to watch.

The rest of the cast are also mostly really good. I say mostly because this film did nothing to change my hatred of Amanda Seyfried. As the grown up Cosette, Seyfried does okay but her singing voice annoyed me so much. It was extremely high and shrill and I just didn’t enjoy listening to her. Other memorable cast members include Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier and Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier, her husband. However, as good as she was, I think that Baron Cohen is risking playing roles in which she will be stereotyped. Too often does she now play the crazy and eccentric characters. However, saying that, she does do them well.

The stand-out performance for me though was by Samantha Barks who plays Éponine. I read somewhere that Taylor Swift was also up for this role but I am so glad British Barks got it instead. As the girl pining for Marius Pontmercy, Barks is fantastic in her role. I think part of what made her so good was the fact that she has played the same role on the stage, although the characters are a little different. Éponine sings one of my favourite songs of all time, ‘On My Own’ and Barks certainly does it justice. Along with Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, this was one of my favourite parts of the whole film.

The setting is also something that needs to be mentioned. Although a film backed by a lot of money, this film does not have a lavish and extravagant set. The setting calls for some dark, dank and dingy settings showing just how bad some of the living conditions in France were during the time the film is set. Still, the sets and backdrops were fantastic throughout and it was a wonderful film to watch because of this. Even though many of the scenes are set in quite depressing places, there is life and colour injected into the film in small amounts in places which was a nice touch.

Les Misérables is by far one of the best films I have seen in such a long time. With an amazing cast, soundtrack and sets, this is probably the film to go and see at the cinema this year.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic review - I will so be buying the film. I'm also so glad Cameron and the other producers kept the film as a sing through (the live musical also has very little spoken dialogue).

    And I love Sam Barks - I saw her in Oliver last month and she is a-ma-zing!