Les Misérables (2013)

Les MiserablesReleased on parole in 1815 after serving nineteen years as a slave, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) finds himself indebted to the church following a foiled repeat offence. Turning his life around away from the vigilant eye of the law (Russell Crowe), Valjean meets a destitute factory worker (Anne Hathaway) and vows to take care of her child. Nine years later, he finds himself back within the sights of his old nemesis just as Paris erupts in revolution.

If Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech was the feel-good movie of 2011/2012, courting acclaim with its story of triumph over adversity, then the director’s follow-up is certainly the feel-bad movie of 2012/2013. Based on the stage musical — and by extension Victor Hugo’s historical novel — of the same name, Les Misérables is once again prompting spontaneous audience applause and attracting Academy attention, albeit for very different reasons.

Shot almost exclusively in extreme close-up (serving to make the occasional panorama seem even more epic by comparison), Hooper goes to great lengths to give his iteration of the familiar story an identity very much of its own. The musical numbers are similarly diametric, with each line either whispered into the ear of the cameraman or howled from the other side of the set. The only constant throughout is Russell Crowe’s monotone karaoke voice.

If all this is sounding rather negative, then please let me clarify: I loved Les Misérables, all 157 minutes of it. What the film might lack in unobtrusive camerawork, it more than makes up for in bombast. Charging on like one of the kamikaze cavalrymen in its final battle, the film gathers extraordinary momentum as it powers on from generation to generation, character to character and show-stopping show tune to show-stopping show tune.

The film peaks early, but not fatally so, with Anne Hathaway’s much-hyped rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream”, in which she sings her heart out — almost face-to-lens and barely audible — between silent sobs, before the acoustic apathy turns quite astonishingly to accompanied anger. It is one of the most arresting and utterly devastating performances you will see this year, the actress somehow managing to stay beautifully in tune even as she almost visibly falls apart in front of the camera.

But this is only one small element of Les Misérables, a tear drop in an ocean of exquisite misery. This is after all the story of Hugh Jackman’s relationship with Russell Crowe, an antagonism which spans decades, and impacts many lives in the process. Even as the film’s weak link, Crowe manages to make a sizeable impression as the film’s primary villain, while Jackman more than deserves his audience’s sympathies — not least when it is finally his turn to sing.

Hathaway isn’t even the only scene-stealer, with each character (and on one occasion the two actresses playing that character) afforded their own chance to shine. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter almost run away with the movie, their opportunistic thieves a breath of fresh air in a story notably lacking in comic relief, while Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks will break your heart in two if Hathaway hasn’t already done so.

As monstrous as it is utterly, utterly magnificent, Les Misérables doesn’t do anything by halves: the characters and sets are so dirty you half expect Dick Van Dyke to pop out of every other chimney, the songs are so unrelenting that the occasional spoken line of dialogue seems unnatural and out of place, and emotions runs so high that you may well choke on the lump in your throat. It’s all dialed up to eleven, and it’s completely wonderful.

While far from the best film of the year — at around three hours it’s more of a stage of life than a movie, like puberty — Les Misérables is undoubtedly a fine piece of work, boasting some of the year’s finest performances and the genre’s best music. There are certainly no issues that couldn’t be solved with some Kleenex and a can of Red Bull.

4.5-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

3 Responses to Les Misérables (2013)

  1. Nostra says:

    Such a great movie which impressed me a lot. Great review

    btw, would you be interested in featuring in my Moviesite Spotlight? If you are just send me a mail (myfilmviews@gmail.com) and I’ll send you the questions.

  2. Pingback: January 2013 – Buzzards’ guts, man! « popcornaddict

  3. Pingback: Ten 2013 Movies That Can’t Come Quickly Enough | popcornaddict

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