Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 18, 2013

Pipe dreams

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

January 18, 2013

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks

Director: Tom Hooper

The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s big-screen take on the long-running, universally beloved stage musical Les Miserables, is a bold and audacious piece of work, but one that overstays its welcome and leaves you feeling overfed in the end.

More ambitious than Chicago or Mamma Mia!, Hooper’s film is a sprawling tale of love, idealism and sacrifice set in 19th century Paris. What separates Les Miserables from the dozen-odd screen musicals you’ve likely seen is that there’s virtually no dialogue here – just wall-to-wall musical numbers – and Hooper’s A-list cast belts out the tracks live on set, lending an urgency and a much deeper sense of “realness” to the performances.

The film benefits considerably from the casting of Hugh Jackman in the central role of Jean Valjean, a man who serves 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, before he escapes and reinvents himself as a respectable textile merchant and the mayor of a small French town. Pursued relentlessly by the obsessed policeman Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean can never rest.

Deeply moved by the plight of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a seamstress in his factory who must sell her hair, her teeth and her body when she loses her job, Valjean adopts her young daughter Cosette as Fantine lies on her deathbed. Caring for her like his own child, Valjean raises Cosette into a young beautiful girl (Amanda Seyfried), and worries about her falling for Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a handsome student actively participating in the French rebellion.

Filmed like an enormous rock opera, Les Miserables has impressive sets, beautiful costumes, and a compelling story. Spectacular to look at and often heartbreakingly poignant to listen to, Hooper never really ditches the stage musical feel while transposing Les Miserables to the screen. But by the film’s second half – which concerns itself with the student rebellion of 1832 – you can’t help feeling exhausted. The musical set-pieces are cut frenetically, and the camera bobs around madly, making your eyes glaze over and your head throb. At a running time of approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film is way too long for its own good.

Of the cast, Hugh Jackman has a restless physicality, and he sings his lungs out in what has to be his bravest performance yet. Anne Hathaway is particularly riveting as the doomed factory girl, revealing an impressive singing voice to match her solid acting chops. Russel Crowe, on the other hand, comes off as too stiff, his vocals much too awkward for his hulking frame. Meanwhile, a nice dash of humor is provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who show up as a pair of cackling innkeepers.

In addition to being a spectacle for the eyes and ears, Les Miserables is heartfelt and moving in parts. This is grand filmmaking, but also unquestionably indulgent. I’m going with three out of five for Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables. Go armed with patience, and you’ll be rewarded.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. Two and and a half hours is way too long?? I’ve seen the stage musical and the concert versions of ‘Les Miserables’. And, for me, at two and a half hours, this film actually seems a bit rushed (the first half especially). If it were a proper three hour film, then the narrative and the scene changes would’ve flowed a lot more smoothly. Any ‘Les Miserables’ fan would tell you that three hours is THE proper length for this musical in any format (stage or concert or screen). Two and a half hours means that lots of songs have to be cut short as well.

    Comment by Divya — January 19, 2013 @ 9:36 am

  2. It is hard to condense a 1200 page tome into a movie of 3 hours, isn’t it? While the director has done a decent job in terms of screenplay, Valjean’s character left much to be desired. As per the book, this is a man who has suffered all his life and does so till he dies, bereft of the memory of Cosette. In a hurry to make the movie, the characterization of Valjean does not do the character justice. At one juncture, I actually felt irritated with his soliloquies.

    Fantine’s character is also a bit blown out of proportion. She is someone who silently suffers apart from the episode with Javert and the nobleman. While reading the book, a sensitive reader will be moved to tears purely on account of the fact that she suffers in secret. The greater the proportion of her misery, the more stoical her behaviour. This version of Fantine is too boisterous and effusive.

    The Thenardiers are reduced to comedians whereas in reality they were incorrigible scoundrels. You start hating the man as soon as he appears in the book. The woman is a complete villain.

    But all in all, a decent attempt to make a legendary classic. Three stars is a fair appraisal.

    Comment by Tuhin — January 23, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

  3. Sir,
    Its overtly long nd too musical. Plot and acting are top notch. Had the length been shorter, total thumbs up.

    Comment by Shankz — January 25, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

  4. Ah we are going through a bad phase in our relationship ….. 3 stars for this film … I could hardly sit through it …. It was ‘lai miserable’ for me ….. I mean actors singing and acting at the same time was commendable( and the performances were terrific ) but the movie was too cliched and predictable for me … Matru also did not live upto vishal bharadwaj’s stature ….. The man has previously made delicious films like kaminey and blue umbrella …., but this time , I guess, he faltered …. My primary problem was that the film wasn’t funny enough….. Many of the scenes did not have the required impact ( airplane scene was a yawn ) …. A similar genre film that I really really enjoyed was emir kusturica’s underground ( which I came to know about through your show … Thank you ) …. Our tastes are differing these days 🙂

    Comment by Sanket — January 26, 2013 @ 12:05 am

  5. Sorry Rajeev !!

    But this is worst film , artificial sets , wierd camera angles . . . N most irritating was the Musical thing not hummimg but hammering into your ear drums . . . surprisngly this film is made by marvellous director of THE KINGS SPEECH. . . . cudnt expected . . . But talent of singing is awesome from the cast .Music is good but delibrate music with wierd narration , crap , bad

    Comment by Kumar Arpit — January 28, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

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