Looking Back at 2010s Films: Les Miserables (2012)

9 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…let me just state that my only exposure to the musical “Les Miserables” is Susan Boyle’s outstanding version of “I Dreamed a Dream” and the 2012 film. Never read the book it was based on, never saw the stage play, never saw any other film adaptations. So, I’m just going to look at the 2012 cinematic version from the director of “The King’s Speech” and…the upcoming “Cats” movie…….OK.

When I first saw this film, I was blown away…despite some inconsistencies.

And after watching it again recently, I was still blown away…despite those same inconsistencies.

The most glaring one of them all is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. He’s great and powerful…and then he’s too showy and trying too hard. It’s kind of weird how he goes back and forth like that. Sometimes, it’s like his most accomplished acting work (and I see why he was nominated for Best Actor this role)…other times, I think he could’ve been more subtle–it’s times like those when I realize the difference between singing in film and singing in theatre.

I admire the grit and weight that’s given to the story, but there are far too many closeups for us to be fully invested in what the characters are going through. I get why a lot of them were used, but a simpler approach could’ve helped other moments.

The poster child (I mean literal “poster child”–her face was on all of the advertisements for this film) for the story is Cosette, whom Jean Valjean, himself on the run as a fugitive, has to rescue from a life of misery after her mother dies. But she doesn’t do anything. She’s a McGuffin–an object that someone is trying to find and protect, standing for what the French rebels are fighting for. I wouldn’t mind so much except that there’s a far more interesting child, one who is active and assisting the rebels and even sacrifices himself for the cause, is Gavroche–why wasn’t HE the symbol for “Les Miserables”?? What did Cosette do aside from…weep?

And then there’s…Russell Crowe. So many people have criticized his singing voice, and I’m not going to act like I don’t see why. He simply can’t carry the tunes he’s been given. He’s better when he’s calm and/or quiet rather than when he’s loud and bombastic. When his Javert is looking over the treachery he found himself a part of, Crowe’s facial expressions say more than his droning singing voice could ever get across.

What do I like about the film? Well, for one, I love the scale of the production. The film feels BIG. It goes beyond what you would’ve seen on stage and maintains the heart and soul that was meant to be felt. The reason I kept watching this 157-minute long musical is simply because it demanded me to.

The costume design is great and the set design is outstanding, recreating 19th Century France really well.

And then there’s Anne Hathaway as Fantine…wow is she spectacular. It’s probably her most accomplished acting of her career, and of course, her singing is better than expected. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” sequence is fantastic–she has the pipes for it, but more importantly, she has the EMOTION for it. And it’s done in just one take in close-up, allowing the intimacy to add to what’s already being felt in this moment. It’s this scene that undoubtedly won Hathaway the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Oh, and there’s also Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen as the swindling innkeepers, Eddie Redmayne as the rebel who falls for Cosette, Samantha Barks who of course Redmayne sees as a a friend rather than a lover even though she’s more developed and interesting, and a bunch of other characters that we probably don’t need for the film even though they’re from the stage musical. But…eh. They’re fine. I’m not terribly bored by them, so that counts for something.

OK, so there’s a lot of problems with “Les Miserables 2012″…but I can’t help it. I have a soft spot for it. The stuff that’s good in it are REALLY good, and the parts that aren’t so good aren’t terrible…and at least Russell Crowe is a better singer than Gerard Butler.

One Response to “Looking Back at 2010s Films: Les Miserables (2012)”

  1. mphtheatregirl October 10, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

    Well- this comment is coming from an obsessed Les Mis fan. Well, I actually know why Cosette is the logo of Les Mis. She does represent hope and light, and does connect for several of the characters- well, let’s see: she is Fantine’s daughter, is Valjean’s adopted daughter and due to that connected to Javert, the love triangle, and because she and Marius fall in love, Marius is one of the revolutionaries.

    When it comes to Les Mis- if you literally get rid of one tiny thing, the entire story unravels itself. I know this musical 24/7 and the plot- and understand the importance of the characters.

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