Les Misérables (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by Tom Hooper and starring Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Hugh Jackman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Aaron Tveit, Colm Wilkinson, Ella Hunt, George Blagden, and Bertie Carvel.
Les Miserables is a film about hope sung from the mouths of characters that are in the grip of circumstances beyond their control, poverty, and a society that looks the other way.
Characters descended in the film and rose, ascended and fell. It was in the falling that the characters became most interesting. When in the sewer of their lives, some characters became captivating to watch and listen to. One such character was Fantine (Anne Hathaway).
When she sang after her first “customer”, the viewer felt and saw her pain and torment. During that scene, the viewer also saw the finest singing/acting in the Les Miserables. The effects of her continuous degradation and grief exploded on her face as she emoted through “I Dreamed a Dream”. It was a powerful rendition that showed that Hathaway is not without some vocal skill in addition to her substantial acting prowess.
One actor without such skill that was forced to sing in Les Miserables was Russell Crowe. Most if not all of his singing was two or three auditory points above virtual nails raked against a chalk board. His stand-alone singing performances were aggravating and illustrated that some things in this film shouldn’t have been sung. These instances did not just happen with Crowe (who played Javier) but with other characters as well, including Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). 3/4’s of his singing was passable to good, the other 1/4 was where Russell Crowe’s permeated: the singing got the job done, nothing more, and was a glaring exercise in an untrained voice. The same phenomenon occurred in Joel Schumacher‘s The Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler, though to less effect since the demands on his singing voice were less significant. The real singers, in both films, showed themselves immediately.
The other singing performances in Les Miserables glided, performed by actors/actresses far more talented, two of note being Samantha Barks (who sang: “On My Own”) and Eddie Redmayne (who sang: “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”). The latter’s grief during his acting/singing was palpable, conjuring up the desire to see the scene without singing. Both of the actors made the movie’s love triangle work, though the majority of it was delivered by Éponine (Samantha Barks). The old phrase “Love is Blind” was epitomized in the expressions on her face when Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) was not looking and through her later actions.
From their singing/acting performances in Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the viewer knew that Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would completely fulfill the needs of their scenes in Les Miserables. Neither falter for a moment in the film and induced many smiles and lighter moments within the drama even-though their characters’ literary incarnations were far darker.
Les Miserables is a celebrated book and a lauded and clever musical. On camera, it satisfies, rising above expectations at times, especially with some of the history it presents on-screen but the viewer will have seen better musical movies than this, one being the aforementioned mentioned Sweeney Todd. Unlike Hooper, Burton knew when the singing of certain dialogue ameliorated the narrative (and the viewers’ enjoyment of the proceedings) and when it did not.