There has been a lot of mixed reviews surrounding the release of Les Misérables. Some of the negative reviews hold merit, whether I agree with them or not, however some are simply scathing attacks which lack open-mindedness or any worthy critique, clearly developed from a personal distaste for Les Misérables itself. An opinion which was no doubt formed before the opening credits even rolled.
As a huge fan of the musical, I had high expectations. Not all of my expectations were met, and there were plenty flaws throughout the bladder-bursting 2 hours and 40 minutes, but overall I left the cinema feeling euphoric as opposed to disappointed.
Visually, the film was stunning. Danny Cohen should be lauded for his imaginative and breathtaking cinematography. Yet despite that, there’s one visual aspect which largely plagues the film and left me glad we found seats at the very back of the auditorium. Tom Hooper’s decision to shoot the film almost entirely in intense close-ups makes for rather uncomfortable viewing at times, almost suffocating the entire production. It’s a pity he didn’t let the film breathe a little more and allow the audience to take in the surroundings, but I’m interested to go back and see it a second time and find out whether it really does detract from the viewing experience as a whole or whether it just takes a little bit of getting used to. I can confidently say that Tom Hooper won’t be making his way in to my list of favourite directors any time soon, however.
Also criticised was the performance of Russell Crowe, criticism which I believe to be rather harsh. In my opinion, as far as image and demeanour goes, Crowe was born to play Javert. In my eyes, the character of Javert is deeply tragic and misunderstood and it’s this which I feel Crowe captures perfectly. Granted, his singing is questionable and, at times, lacks real emotion but he redeemed himself towards the end of the film as his character grew. It was a risk to cast him, and despite the majority of critics having failed to be convinced, I enjoyed his performance for the most part.
Whilst on the subject of singing and risks, choosing to record the actors singing live to the cameras rather than lip synching to a pre-recorded track was a gamble which ultimately paid off. Despite a horribly shaky opening scene and subsequent 15 minutes, the live singing helps create a raw emotion which made for some memorable scenes - most notably Anne Hathaway’s emotional, and most likely Oscar-winning, performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”. Some have already been quick to accuse her of overacting, but I couldn’t disagree more. The audible sobs and breaths between lines adds to the gritty realism and helps separate it from the stage version, something which more people should really take in to consideration on first viewing. Comparing the two is a huge mistake, and it’s best to stay clear of any comparisons to fully enjoy the film. I struggled with the singing at times, but only because I’m used to the cast recording from the stage musical. In my head I could hear Colm Wilkinson belting out “What Have I Done?” yet Hugh Jackman sings it entirely differently. This is probably the reason I didn’t enjoy the “Bring Him Home” scene from the film as much as I expected to, but making the comparison to Wilkinson’s performance would be unfair on anybody.
As the intensity of the film picked up as it entered Act II, so did the pace. One of the triumph’s of the movie, Anne Hathaway aside, was the performance of Samantha Barks as Éponine. “On My Own” broke me emotionally and she was utterly convincing from her first appearance on screen to her last. Eddie Redmayne as Marius was easily the stand-out performance of the entire film though, and the scenes at the beginning of the June Rebellion were nothing short of spectacular. Yet despite all those positives, the barricade formed by the students looked a little silly to say the least. A few chairs and bits of furniture is something which undoubtedly works well on stage, but as far as the film goes it wasn’t particularly convincing. The biggest surprise of the film however, came in the form of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Both delivered outstanding performances as the Thénardiers, providing some light comic relief from the hard-hitting story throughout, and “Master of the House” was an utter joy to watch.
I cried, that was a given, but I didn’t cry anywhere near as much as I expected to. I was gripped, I believed in it, hell I even enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite as perfect as I hoped it would be. You only need to do a quick Google search to bring up a whole host of bad reviews, but the first performance of Les Misérables at the Barbican Centre in London in 1985 and the reviews that followed just go to show that it’s the audience who determine the success of a production or a film, not the critics, and 27 years later it’s still going strong.
If you’re a fan of the musical Les Misérables, then I suggest you go and see it and make up your own mind. If you’re not a fan, then it’s probably best you stay clear of it altogether. Despite it’s flaws, I loved it for what it was; a lavish, over-the-top, emotional and, at times, beautiful production that brought the power and intensity of the musical to the big screen - and really, that’s all that matters.