Lets start right out of the gate by saying that this film is fantastic. It is over two and a half hours long but you need that to do justice to the musical. Interestingly, with its running time, I think the film has also been able to do something that the stage version did not do; it has done justice to the story. I’ve not read the book but you really get the sense here that behind this, on the page, there is an epic, sprawling literary tale and I didn’t get from the original musical. That isn’t to say that I don’t love the musical because I do and I am sure that is part the reason that I am so impressed by the film. There may be people who don’t already love Les Mis or can’t really get on with movie musicals and this is going to be a harder sell for them but this is a staggering piece of film making and if you care about cinema as an art form I don’t think you can fail to be amazed by what has been done here. It isn’t in competition with the stage show because it is a very different interpretation. The singing is not as good (although all but one of the main cast are very good) but any loss of musical performance is compensated for by the realism. A realism that is possible with huge sets and close ups on the acting. I don’t want to get into a debate about film verses stage acting (not now at least) but you can’t always see the tears and trembling lips from the upper circle. These songs are not being sung they are being acted to the point that I almost forgot they were actually singing the lines. In fact, because of this the final full cast finale that sits fine on the stage was a little jarring here but I was so swept up in it all by then that they could have actually broken into a full Oliver! style dance sequence and I wouldn’t have cared.
In terms of the performances Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are both behaving like they are still in Sweeney Todd but that is kind of what their parts call for. The Thenardiers’ contribution to the show has always been very Dickensian and you could argue that this works less successfully surrounded by all the ramped up emotion everywhere else but it’s not really a problem. Samantha Barks is very good as Eponine with her theatrical experience shining through, but for me there are three actors that really stand out. I’ve not previously been a great fan of Eddie Redmayne but here he is excellent and Anne Hathaway is SIMPLY STAGGERING! The star of the show though is Mr. 24601 whose performance is superb. They tend to say that once Daniel Day Lewis is nominated for an Oscar everyone else can go back to their usual business but I bet he could not do what Hugh Jackman does here (Doubt my words? Watch Nine.) and I hope Jackman gets the award. Considering that Hugh Jackman’s usual business is playing Wolverine that is impressive versatility. Notable by their absence from this list for anyone who knows the show at all is Javert and it is Russell Crowe whose singing isn’t up to par. It is a little hard to get past this and some people may not be able to but I thought his performance was good enough otherwise.
So what we have here is a beautiful, engrossing, emotional, realistic and very moving film. Musicals work best when you get the impression that the people are singing because mere words cannot express the magnitude of their emotions and this is both a masterwork of the genre and a wonderful piece of cinema.
Is this one for the kids?
Les Miserables is rated 12A and I think it is generally okay for most children over 9 or 10. It does involve people dying and getting shot but it is not bloody or overly violent although you might need to explain prostitution after they’ve seen it. The other consideration is that it is pretty long at over two and a half hours and emotions run high throughout.