Review: Les Miserables

I’ve gotten into a lot of conversations recently about the movie adaptation of Les Miserables, so I thought I’d go ahead and write a post expounding on my thoughts about the movie. First of all, know that I somehow managed to go into this movie knowing only three of the songs and almost nothing about the plot or the characters, despite the fact that I’m a theater person.

I went into this movie expecting it to be good. I did not go into this movie expecting to be awed, inspired, and moved (multiple times) to the point of tears. That, however, was my experience watching Les Miserables.

To begin, Anne Hathaway as Fantine. What a magnificent performance. Watching her portrayal of an innocent, hardworking, loving young mother who has her innocence and her life brutally torn away from her was heartbreaking, and all I can say is as an actress, she more than delivered. She felt sympathetic and noble, but Hathaway managed not to deify her and held onto the gritty humanity that comes to the character through all of her horrific circumstances. It’s amazing to reflect on the awkward girl from Princess Diaries who has become a talented woman playing one of musical theater’s most coveted parts. “I Dreamed a Dream” was, as it should be, one of the highlights of the movie, and thoroughly reinforced Hathaway’s incredible talent and dedication to her craft.

Another actor I think deserves more credit was the actor who played the boy who led the rebels (forgive me for forgetting his name). I was blown away by his vocal performance, I adored his character, and his death may actually have been the hardest for me to deal with, especially because I knew about Fantine’s death but didn’t know about his. He was one of those standout performances that did a great deal with a part that was less than enormous.

Eponine, as well, was fantastic. What a fabulous character. Not knowing anything about her coming in, I expected a scorned woman making things terrible for Cosette and Marius, not the self-sacrificing, sweet, sad girl she ended up being. I know it’s different in the book, but I thought this performance was wonderful. She had a beautiful voice and created yet another sympathetic character in the complex web of motives and emotions. Eponine is much more dynamic than many of the other characters and had a true story in her own right, which I appreciated.

Also, I’ve heard a lot of criticism for Hugh Jackman’s performance, and I thought he did very well. I know some of this comes from people who know the show very well, but I thought he was good vocally and thoroughly believable and sympathetic as a character. I don’t understand all the hatred for his performance in this movie.

I will admit one thing: Russell Crowe was cast very poorly. He had no business being Javert. His singing was mediocre at best and his performance was, at best, flat. However, despite his unimpressive performance, I was fascinated by the character and the unique way in which he goes about being an antagonist. In some ways, he was easy to pity, which just made the point of the movie that much stronger.

This movie made me cry upwards of three or four times, which is pretty unusual for me, but so much of it struck a chord for me. Particularly, I connected more strongly than I would have thought to Marius and his friends. It was so easy to watch them carrying on and theorizing and making political speeches and think, These are my friends. I know these people. That made the scene of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” that much more heartbreaking because I’m a college student. These are the kinds of people I spend my time with, these overly earnest, idealistic, radical, intelligent, warmhearted young adults who are wise beyond their years and will do anything to change the world. It was easy to imagine the people that I knew standing behind a barricade for “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It wasn’t Cosette or Eponine who I connected to and sympathized with, it was Enjolras and the other boys who fought with him.

One other element is worth mentioning: the music. Of course, the music is not original to the movie, as most of it is from the musical, but most of it I’d never heard before stepping foot into the theater. It is something of magnificence. “On My Own” and “I Dreamed a Dream” are wonderful, of course, as well as being to of the songs I had heard before. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” pretty much emotionally destroyed me. The grandiose sound of it and its use at the barricade at the very end was no small part in why I cried (that time). “Red and Black” is also an emotion wrecker, but a wonderful piece of music and I so appreciated its use in the story.

This is a rich movie and a rich story, and there’s lots more to talk about besides what I covered here, but I wanted to give an overview of my (very strong) feelings on the film that I’ve heard get a lot of criticism. I came out of the theater shaken by how much it had affected me and awed by strength and power of the characters and themes and their hold on me. And, really, what more can you ask for?

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4 thoughts on “Review: Les Miserables

  1. Mark Ahrens says:

    It sounds like you haven’t read the book. READ IT. If you don’t have time, get the abridged version – but I recommend the unabridged one. The poor bishop gets what, 2 lines in the musical, and about a hundred pages in the book. I have a friend who can’t stand the musical just because she feels the bishop got short shrifted. As for me, I can overlook that :). Then again, the musical doesn’t really explain what happens between the tunnel and Vajean’s death scene.

    Thanks for the review!

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  2. playwrightwithaquill says:

    But the leader of the rebels is named Antoine. The little boy is named Gavroche. ‘But little people know, when little people fight…’
    This musical has been a family tradition for me- I’ve been singing ‘Lovely Ladies’ since I was four years old. Excellent review-though I am probably one of the few defenders of Russell Crowe as Javert-I felt his low belt singing really added to the character.
    Also, if you liked the movie, I highly recommend the 25th anniversary performance done in London -its available on youtube. The music is so much more powerful in this version. Since all the singing was done live in the movie, aka while they building barricades or being shot, etc., some of the songs came out softer and less powerful than they could have.
    Oh, and fun fact. The bishop in the movie is the first actor ever to play Jean Valjean in the musical.

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