'Les Miserables' (2012) Movie Review

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
Photo: Universal Pictures

Adapted from the stage musical, which itself was adapted from Victor Hugo's 1862 French novel, Les Miserables is instantly massive as prisoners heave on giant ropes, pulling a massive ship into the port at Toulon. They sing in tune with each pull, "Look down, look down... Don't look them in the eye." It's here we meet Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) for the first time, head shaven and scarred. His sentence of nineteen years for stealing a single loaf of bread has come to an end, but a strict parole has been put in place, limiting his freedom under the watchful eye of the dedicated inspector of police Javert (Russell Crowe).

Les Miserables
Grade: C+

Les Miserables"Les Miserables" is a Universal Pictures release, directed by Tom Hooper and is rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.

The cast includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Samantha Barks.

These opening moments take place in the year 1815 and the film will cover the next 33 years as the people rise up to claim their country, an ex-con will become an adoptive father and a young girl will fall in love. Fans of the stage musical are sure to eat up all 157 minutes of this film, which is every bit a musical as it claims to be. Hardly a word is spoken without being sung and the words are sung quite well as the Tony award-winning Jackman is clearly in his element, Crowe is no stranger to song and Anne Hathaway as Fantine breathes such life into this film, she is sorely missed in the latter two-thirds.

Les Miserables is fantastic for its first 60 minutes, the emotional investment rising with every turn in the story. Eight years following his release, Valjean manages to break parole and reinvent himself. He now owns a factory and lives under the name of Monsieur le Mayor, but his guise will only last him so long, though it will afford him the chance to meet Fantine and soon care for her young daughter Cosette as he must once again run from Javert.

From here the story, again, jumps forward in time. This time nine years have passed, Cosette has grown up and we are introduced to 1832 Paris. Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) lead a quiet life while a revolution is brewing in the streets. Javert is still on the hunt and we meet the rebel Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Eponine (Samantha Barks), the daughter of the innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) that cared for Cosette before Valjean relieved them of their duty.

It's here the film begins to fall apart. Les Miserables reaches such a climax with Hathaway's show-stopping performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" that simply nothing that comes after it can live up to its excellence. Hathaway, shot in close-up for the song's duration and without a single cut, is crushing. I can't remember a time where I was so floored with emotion from one solitary musical performance that the fact her few minutes of song outweigh the entirety of a nearly three hour feature is telling not only of her performance, but of the remaining minutes that follow.

Barks, who played Eponine in the recent London stage adaptation of Les Mis, does provide the film's second half with a fantastic performance of "On My Own" that stands only second to Hathaway's "Dream", but is one of the few remaining highlights as the final 90 minutes drag to an inevitable conclusion.

Beyond Javert's chasing of Valjean, a storyline that grows quickly tiresome, the second half of Les Mis depends on your believing that in only a glance across a crowded street, Cosette and Marius have fallen madly in love. A performance of "A Heart Full of Love" is then meant to seal the deal. It doesn't. Eponine's jealousy and disappointment in Marius' choice of Cosette over her are the only emotions I was convinced of in these scenes.

I'm not sure if it was due to the fact virtually every word of this film is spoken in song, and if that is a hang-up of my own, but there needed to be a little massaging of the relationship between Marius and Cosette if we were meant to have any emotional investment. As it stands, all that exists is the rebellion (which always seems secondary, even when it's not), Javert's tiresome dedication to capturing Valjean and Eponine's reluctancy to let go of her love for Marius.

The love we're meant to feel between Cosette and Marius comes across as something director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) determined was a given and not something he needed to dedicate any real time to building. If that's the case, he was wrong. Whether that's due to the performances of Seyfried (whose singing voice reminds me of a classic animated Disney princess) and Redmayne (whose voice is the most distinguishable among the cast) or the narrative as it was edited together I can't quite tell, but I will say neither Seyfried nor Redmayne stood out to me as particularly moving, at least not when compared to Hathaway, Jackman, Crowe and Barks.

A bit of humor is injected in the way of Cohen and Carter as the married innkeepers who make their living off thieving and conning the public and both are perfect for their roles (as is their performance of "Master of the House"). It's also quite clear costume designer Paco Delgado had some of his most fun dressing these two, though I must say the costumes throughout are quite amazing as is the production design led by Eve Stewart whose filmography clearly shows she's something of a master at these period set pieces, which include Oscar nominations for The King's Speech and Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy.

Hooper's handling of such a massive story is a mixed bag of tightly woven storytelling in the first half to dry, dull and tiring in the second. Perhaps that's just the nature of the story, but everything about the introduction of Marius and all that leads up to the rebellion felt clunky and ill-conceived and none of it believable. Though, I must give kudos to Daniel Huttlestone whose performance as the young street urchin Gavroche provides some moments of enjoyment throughout the film's latter half through song and general mischief.

I could watch the first hour of this film over again, but once Cosette grows up, Les Mis grows old.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Cordia/ Cordia

    Nice last line Brad.
    it really looks like a movie with reactions and reviews going from a+ to D's..just a matter of taste.

  • Joe

    funny, i'm really looking forward to seeing this movie, but your sentiments are usually how i feel about the musical, even though it's my favorite. i do think this is more of a flaw with the musical and it's too bad they didn't do more to adapt it for film.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Fox/ Fox

      I'd agree with you here. I've seen the play a few times and no matter the quality, it always feels like the only evidence we have of Marius and Cosette's love is the fact that we're told they're in love. Never bothered me too much. I'm still excited for this one.

  • Ron Oneal Fresh

    90 minutes is a long time to drag. You could watch a entire movie with that time.

  • Aroncido

    This is my most anticipated film of the year, I really hope I won't be disappointed.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Excellent review and, like others above have said, this pretty much sums up how i feel about the play. I don't think that's any surprise as changing Les Mis for the movie would have been a very ballsy move which I don't think Hooper would have been capable of. Despite the story issues though, I am still excited for this one.

  • Christophe

    Well, it's a musical, you're not supposed to understand anything just soak in the sounds and images and let yourself be overwhelmed by the experience.

    At least, the British critics are raving about it, it's going to make a ton of dough at the UKBO, maybe even more than in the US.

    • Christophe

      It's a purely aesthetical and emotional experience, not an intellectual one.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JohnQ./ John Q.

        But why can't an aesthetical and/or emotional experience be an intellectual one too?

        Why must those things be exclusive of each other?

        It seems unfairly dismissive of an entire genre to say 'it's a musical, it doesn't need to make sense', not to mention unambitious.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kylejames182/ kyle coley


  • Winchester

    I'm not familiar with the play so I'll take it as I find it. Certainly wouldn't be the first film that asked you to believe in a connection between two characters that maybe failed to do so convincingly but that doesn't necessarily hurt.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Travis/ Travis

    As much as I love this musical, I will admit you kind of have to take it for granted that Marius and Cosetter are in love. They had to cut a lot of background to make a 33 year 1500 page novel a 3 hour operreta. But I love it nonetheless. I was afraid that might be a hang-up for you (and one I won't criticize-it is slightly accurate), although I do find it funny that you didn't like the Javert-Valjean relationship, which many people find to be the main theme of the musical, so much so that Javert is usually pushed in Lead categories as well.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Travis/ Travis

      Out of curiosity, other than his voice, what did you think of Eddie Redmayne? It seems like the race is switching to push him for the nomination over Russell Crowe

  • jessied44

    The Marius/Cossette connection while in the book has always been a weakness in the musical. This is usually overlooked since the heart of the story is the transformation from sinner to saint of Jean Val Jean given the catalyst of the Bishop, Fantine, and Cossette. Since you don't really mention this, I would say that you need to re-watch and maybe re-rate.

    • UncleG

      Agreed! I was about to post the same thing myself. The story is about the redemption of Jean Val Jean, not a love story about Marius/Cossette.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      If that portion of the story hadn't been so tiresome and obvious then I think I would have enjoyed it more and mentioned it. Does the obvious need to be mentioned to have been consumed? The latter half of this film is a mess and I don't need to re-watch it to realize that.

  • Unknown/Anonymous

    So based on your review, how will this affect its standing in the Oscar predictions?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/GothamCity151/ GothamCity151

    I am quite surprised that you find the Valjean/Javert stuff tiresome. Javert is such a fascinating character because of his singular vision. He is an old testament man living in a new testament world. What's bad is bad and always will be bad. What's good is good and always will be good. Valjean was sentenced to "five years for what you did, the rest because you tried to run". His opinion that bad will stay bad has already been affirmed by Valjean. Once Valjean finds god and becomes a good man, Javert cannot accept this. With this philosophy, the slightest bend will break him. I think it's really interesting.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I get what you're saying with Javert, but it didn't feel new or interesting as much as it felt obvious and relentless. The quote you mention comes in the first ten minutes and Javert's moral code is banged like a drum throughout. I found Javert's continuous chasing of Valjean tiresome, repetitive and annoying by the end. It was just too much of the same thing over and over again for me.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/GothamCity151/ GothamCity151

        I mean, to each his own. I had a very similar opinion on it the first time seeing the show. It wasn't until I had time to analyze songs like "The Confrontation" and "Stars" over and over again to truly fall in love with that part of the story. "Les Mis" isn't really something you can just see once. There is layer upon layer in the lyrics and music that it is a lot to unpack. I would give it another watch.

  • ndixit2

    So what do you think of Hathaway's chances of winning Best Supporting Actress after viewing the film? Despite the general mixed reaction I'm sensing, acclaim towards her performance seems unanimous.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Grissom/ Grissom

    Personally, i don't include runtime as a hardcore reason for grading a film, it's a factor, not a solid reason. So if i were in your shoes, Brad, and i felt the same, i'd give it a b-, as the performances are fantastic, and the story is a gem, as i'm familiar with the original play. I give it an A because i've enjoyed this interpretation of it.

    • Rocketman

      I find it bizarre that readers of this review feel compelled to ask Brad to re-watch or re-rate the movie. How about you start up your own movie review website and post your own reviews? It seems that many of them haven't seen the movie and are basing it upon their passionate love of the stage musical. Looks like Les Miserables has more fan-boys that Star Wars. Great review Brad...I haven't seen it myself but I'm going to check it out anyway, even if it's for the Hathaway performance that you singled out.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Grissom/ Grissom

        Wow, you really took that out of context. I said that's how i'd rate it, when did i say "Brad, you need to change your grade"?

  • ThePrinceIsOnFire

    I think Brad just gave a perfectly fine grade, well explained in the review itself.
    I don't want to sound repetitive but these kind of movies are not meant to appeal a general audience, just the Brodway and general musicals fans.
    I'm not saying this as an anti-musical type of person; Just I know that in order to like a movie pretty much all singed trough it has to be a phenomenal one and this...it is not.I love dearly the original novel, and I quite like the play, but I perfectly know it's very flowed, and somehow badly organized( in the sense that the play also falls after the first half and becomes a bore). I only quite disagree with the critics towards Seyfried: her character is weak(as an adult) but her voice is one of the best of all cast in my opinion. As I previously said, this IS NOT going to win oscars. Nominations assured, it will be the biggest loser on cerimony night.I predict 8/9 nominations and two/three wins( musical score, one for the acting, may it be Hathaway or Crowe, maybe costumes , even if that I think belongs to deceased Eiko Ishioka for Mirror Mirror(deservedly))

  • Chris

    I totally sound like a dick here, but I told you all if wouldn't meet these high expectations. I never thought the previews were that impressive while everyone was blown away. The reviews seem to be either you love it or find it below average.

  • Arturo

    Wow, this film as well as the hobbit do not seem to be meeting everyone's expectations. Not to say it sounds terrible, but not the best pic winner many including myself thought.

  • Arturo

    The race just got very interesting, Zero Dark thirty, Argo, and Lincoln here we go.

    • Chris

      Obviously I haven't seen ZDT yet, but I found Argo and Lincoln to be pretty conventional. I'd have to go with Argo so far since it was a much more fun ride and Affleck did an incredible job directing. I can't wait to see what Brad thinks about Django.

      Now that Les Mis apparently is not that great, I think we got a real race on our hands, expect this now makes Lincoln the safe choice for the Academy.

  • oliver

    So what you're saying is that Hathaway ruined this movie for you. I f--ng knew it!

  • Trent

    Perhaps a question should be asked. Has cinema entered a realm where during a film, people's patience wane and judge the film due to that? Maybe you should quit, Brad.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Fox/ Fox

      Hasn't cinema always been in that realm? What you say is true: if a movie is boring then people will judge the film based on that. I don't see a problem with that. . .

  • http://timeforafilm.com Alex Thomas

    How great were Cohen and Carter!? I thought they brought some much needed humour to the dark/bleak film, without them I think I would have disliked it. I still didn't really like it though, definitely admired and respected it.

    Agreed the first half/hour was better, I still didn't feel any emotion though. Maybe I'm just heartless!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Lumberjack918/ Eric Taylor

    If I may, having seen three different stage versions - and loving each and every one- I could not wait to see this on film. It DID NOT disappoint. Jackman was incredible, Hathaway, I felt the pain she must have felt during her own "personal heartbreak" issues. Crowe was OK as was Seyfried...Borat could have shown more as could Helena Carter. This version's Marius was beyond belief. That darling child, Gavroche, could have been a show stealer if Jean Val Jean and Marius were not so dynamic.
    I absolutely loved this production. I will see it again as soon as the first one has settled. I am not ashamed that I cried and cried throughout the film, especially for the Bring Him Home(s), I Have a Dream and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.
    See this movie, take some tissues and fall into the story. Our audience applauded at the last scene and then again at the end of the credits.

  • Grace

    I got up to use the restroom the first time Amanda Seyfried started singing. I didn't feel like I was missing much.
    Best use of Sacha Baron Cohen I have seen yet.
    It was getting tiresome but I thought Aaron Tveit as Enjolras was a good pick-me-up during the second half. His voice is strong.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Dranderz/ Dranderz

    I agree that once Cosette grows up the film drags, but I honestly felt it picked up VERY much by the last act. Starting from the last stand on the barricade through the finale, I was surprised to have found myself much more emotionally involved, even moved.

    Also, does anyone else feel like the orchestral track was mixed to be too quiet, as if they REALLY wanted to embellish how visceral the live singing was? I found some of the more powerful moments (and I stress "moments", for they were too few) to be when the music was booming.
    I think a stronger instrumental mix would have helped a ton during times when the film dragged (even if it still didn't make the story any more intellectually challenging, it would have helped the pace).

    Overall it actually turned out to be one of my favorite of the awards contenders. I still can't predict Best Picture, but let's just say I wouldn't furiously smash my coffee table if Les Mis won.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/smithmisc/ smithmisc

    I found Les Mis quite disappointing. Crowe's voice is not OK--it is downright bad, and his character shows no meaningful development or movement during the film. He is stuck in place the whole film and there is no sorrow when he disappears into the abyss, only relief that he won't be heard from again. Jackman does a nice job with his acting, and some of the context he provides through facial expressions and such really fills in some of the gaps in the stage version. Overall, the film is passionless and bland and even the work of Jackman and Hathaway in Dream seem no more than resume fillers for these stars who undoubtedly wanted to be associated with the Les Mis product. This film is forgettable.

    • Geri

      I thought Crowe's character showed great development. Whereas in the play his suicide comes out of nowhere, it's totally foreshadowed in the film as he sings while walking on the edge of the building. Also, his placing of his medal on the boy revolutionary was a telling moment for his character.

  • Geri

    Everyone seems to be heaping praise upon Hugh Jackman and I just don't see it. I thought his Jean Valjean was extremely weak. I believe he got the nomination because 1. he lost a lot of weight for the role and 2. he had fantastic make-up. I normally like Jackman, but just don't think he deserves the praise he's been getting for this role.