Most people have at least heard the title “Les Miserables” (more commonly said “Les Mis”) even if you have no idea what it’s about. And if you hadn’t heard it before, I’m willing to bet that a musical with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe in it was enough to call your attention to the movie, at least, and rightfully so. While nowadays many movie adaptations of classic stories feel the need to add extra twists, turns, and action scenes to keep people interested, the people behind this movie decided to do almost the opposite; sticking steadfast to the theater productions. A good majority of the changes they did end up making were either related to time constraints, or in fact making the movie more accurate to the novels themselves.
Now, most reviews usually start out with a plot synopsis, so what is Les Miserables about, actually? Well, it’s basically…or, I guess it’s…it’s really…let’s just say complicated. Any short summary would be inaccurate and any accurate summary would be way too wordy to read. So let’s stick with something like, “a convicted criminal breaks his parole to be a good person and saves a little girl, then years later the Paris Uprising of 1832 happens and there’s a little bit of love and a lot of death,” and accept that I’ve left a good 60% of the story and characters out.
If it sounds pretty intimidating, that’s because it is, as a whole—but don’t worry, you don’t have to read the 900+ page book to enjoy the movie. There’re battle scenes, there’s romance, singing, attractive people of all kinds, slapstick humor, and of course, historical references abound—if you can’t find something to enjoy in Les Miserables, then you’re not looking hard enough. And after a few initial barrages of new characters, the story becomes fairly simple to follow.
Make sure to bring tissues, though. Seriously, an entire box.
But, enough about the story as a whole, what about the movie? Well, as I’ve said, there’re plenty of familiar faces to enjoy, since the cast has plenty of big-ticket names—and a few unfamiliar faces that fans are coming to enjoy regardless. And if there was a word that meant the opposite of typecasting, I would use it. Hugh Jackman? Singing? Yes—and brilliantly, may I add. The only performance I’ve heard complaints about is Russell Crowe’s, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Most of the time, it’s apples and oranges; some people saw one rendition of the story and prefer it to another, for some it’s the other way around, but I don’t think anyone could really call the performances in this movie “bad,” even if they’re not to their taste.
Many of the solos were filmed in one continuous shot, and all of the singing was done live, instead of the usually preferred method of the actors singing in a studio and then lip-syncing afterwards, which was used to amazing effect—most musical performances are focused on the quality of the singing and how well it was done right off the paper, but the actors in Les Mis were able to change the style and pace of their lines to fit with the moment, and the soundtrack was then performed by an orchestra afterwards to fit the actors instead of the other way around.
This movie adaptation even includes a brand new song written specifically for it, “Suddenly,” bridging what is often seen as a jarring transition in the stage productions that was absent in the novels.
The only complaint I really have about Les Miserables is that there are some scenes that seem rushed over, and some longtime-fan favorite lines and verses that were cut out completely. But, seeing as the movie was two and a half hours long already, there’s really not much space for me to get upset, and most viewers might not even notice it.
I highly encourage everyone to go see Les Miserables—and who knows, maybe if enough people are interested, they’ll release the original five-hour edit and I won’t have room to complain at all!