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"Les Miserables" Delivers Stellar Performances And Stunning Visuals

Mallory Arkin |
December 28, 2012 | 2:59 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Anne Hathaway gives the most haunting performance of the entire film. (Universal Pictures)
Anne Hathaway gives the most haunting performance of the entire film. (Universal Pictures)
Apparent in the opening sequence, which introduces an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, “Les Miserables” is without doubt a visual masterpiece. It is a cinematic master class in which the costumes, sound design, sets, and overall spectacle keep audiences entertained most of the time. The film is extremely long, coming in at 2 hours and 37 minutes, and felt it. There were multiple lulls throughout, but each was redeemed by grand musical numbers and, simply put, stellar performances by the cast.

The film follows Valjean’s lifelong struggle for redemption, and Jackman believably portrays each stage of the almost 20 year span shown in the film. Anne Hathaway, though she has relatively very little screen time, gives the most memorable and haunting performance of the entire film, which is sure to stay with audiences even after they have left the theater. Hathaway, who dropped 25 pounds to portray the sickly Fantine, is certainly worthy of the Oscar buzz she is receiving.

Making her film debut was Samantha Barks, who got to see her role as Eponine go from London’s West End stage (where she performed from 2010 to 2011) to the silver screen. Director Tom Hooper cast her in the much-coveted role over big names such as Lea Michele and Taylor Swift, and she did not disappoint. Her portrayal evokes sympathy for a character that often, if played by a lesser actor, can come off as unlikeable to audiences. Russell Crowe, though nothing spectacular, gave a solid performance as Inspector Javert. Also in the cast are Amanda Seyfried (who has a surprisingly high vocal range) and Eddie Redmayne, both of whom also contribute sound performances. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, though they have played similar characters in the past (“Sweeney Todd” anyone?) and seem obvious casting choices, offer a welcome dose of humor and vitality in the heavy and emotionally draining plot.

Hooper’s “Les Miz” is unique in that all of the singing was done live during filming. The actors wore in-ear monitors and sang to piano accompaniment being played live in a soundproof room on set, making the actors’ performances all the more impressive. Though the singing was not without its faults, Hooper seemed to be aiming for something greater than perfect Broadway voices, which he achieves. Audiences will hardly mind a less than perfect vocal performance in favor of an emotional life that hits all the right notes.

Some of the film’s pitfalls are not as easily overlooked. There was uneven pacing and stylistic inconsistencies, such as how the film jumps between cinematic realism and stage theatrics. Audiences will wonder why French revolutionaries speak with British accents, though this is a fault of the stage version as well which Hooper fails to correct. Though he does a great job directing the cast, in the end, the film ends up in a strange no man’s land between commercial spectacle and highbrow operetta. Regardless, audiences will be sure to appreciate Hooper’s gritty lens through which these “miserable” lives are showcased. Overall, “Les Miserables” is worth seeing due to the great performances and stunning visuals.

“Les Miserables” is in theaters now.

Reach Staff Reporter Mallory Arkin here.



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