Originally published on the now defunct Newcastle Free Press website. Link unavailable.
Runtime: 158 mins
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson et. al.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Release: 11th January 2013
It may surprise you to learn that even now, many months after its release, loads of cinemas are still playing Les Misérables (it may not surprise you to learn that the title sounds hilarious in a Geordie accent). You would have thought everyone would have got over it by now, but no. People are still going to see it. I have definitely seen this film far too many times; it played in my cinema for about three weeks and was completely unavoidable. I wouldn’t mind… but I really dislike musicals. Oddly enough, the songs don’t bother me. I just hate it when they sing the dialogue.
Anyway, the plot of Les Mis is a bit too long and complicated for me to describe within any reasonable interpretation of a word limit. The main narrative revolves around Jean Val Jean (so good they named him twice), played by Hugh Jackman, a fugitive from justice seeking redemption in the eyes of the Lord. He is pursued mercilessly by psychotic law robot Javert, played by master-of-accents Russell Crowe, an unrelentingly by-the-book police inspector who chases Val Jean over the course of many years. All the other sub-plots are off-shoots from this main thread; the inn-keeper and his wife, the adoptive daughter, the uprising (which I am told is neither the French Revolution nor the Paris Commune) are all side stories. And they are all really boring!
Paradoxically, this is both the film’s chief strength and its biggest detriment; this main narrative is compelling and well written enough to hold up the film, but all the other stories are exceptionally uninteresting in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes with the revolutionaries can be intriguing, but you find yourself waiting for Val Jean and Javert to get back on screen.
The acting is varied, but for the most part of a high quality. Hugh Jackman carries the film, bringing nuances and showing his not inconsiderable talent. Anne Hathaway’s role in the story is small but she by far has the biggest impact with that iconic song and her performance is well deserving of her Oscar. The rest of the cast do well in general, but I couldn’t stand Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. This might be because the characters themselves are genuinely unlikeable and intentionally so (the general reprehensibility is key to the story), but they (in my opinion)are poorly acted and bland. Russell Crowe is the same as he always is. Seen one Russell Crowe performance, seen them all.
One of the most apt assessments of Les Mis that I have heard may at first sound incredibly obvious. A key thing to remember is that in the film, you are seeing (and hearing) actors singing rather than singers acting. Sounds like a pointless statement but it sums the film up perfectly. While the quality of the singing may not be up there with the stage show, the entire production gains so much more for having actors playing the parts. The emotion and nuances that the actors can give to the songs makes the film far superior, and in most cases makes up for the odd wobbly note or bad casting choice (I’m looking at you, Russell). The choice to have the actors sing live instead of to a soundtrack was a bold one, but I’m not sure that it made any perceivable difference to the movie. The sound was actually a big problem in the cinema; it was really difficult to get the levels right. Whether this was as a result of the recording or a problem with the copy that was distributed remains to be seen.
There is not really much more to say about Les Mis as a film; being a musical, it can’t really be judged by the same criteria as a normal flick. They just don’t work in the same way. It looks good, sounds good, and for the most part the acting is solid. There are one or two good songs in there, but whether you like them or not, you will find yourself whistling them at some point. It’s a good film. Not great, just good.
I want to finish with one of the best things I overheard a customer say as they left: ‘Yeah, it was good… but there was just a bit too much singing, y’know?’