Of all the films that have been nominated for Oscars this year, the one getting the most mixed reviews is Les Miserables. This is not the first time someone has tried to put Les Miserables on the big screen but this film version took a large risk. Rather than recording the songs before shooting and then lip syncing, the actors in this production of Les Miserables sang during every take that they shot. I understand why Les Miserables has gotten such mixed reviews because overall, I did not like it but there were many parts of it that I found to be outstanding.
The story of Les Miserables is a well known one, whether you know it from the book, the stage production or the film. Starting with the release of reformed prisoner and main character Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), the film follows Valjean through three time periods in his life. Constantly hunted by Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean tries to live his life under a number of different aliases. The first is a factory owner, where he employs the young woman Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Working to support her child, Fantine is eventually fired. Thinking Valjean will protect her, he is distracted when Javert appears and discovers Valjean’s true identity.
Desperate to provide for her child, Fantine begins to do anything possible to make money which includes selling her hair, teeth and her body. Eventually running into Valjean again, Fantine makes him promise to care for her child before passing away. Valjean finds the child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), being treated as a slave by con artists Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter) and Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen). Valjean takes Cosette away and disappears into another identity. The story then moves forward a number of years, showing Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and Valjean living a comfortable life. When Cosette falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a member of the French Resistance, Valjean is willing to give his life to protect the Marius and give Cosette, a woman who has become his daughter, the man that she loves.
Visually, this film was absolutely stunning as it travels through an almost mythical depiction of the streets of France. The camera never stopped moving, shooting scenes from different places and playing with angles and position. As far as the actual filming of Les Miserables, I thought the director did a great job. Every word in the film was sung and while the big, show-stopping numbers were filmed beautifully, I had some fundamental issues with a fair amount of the singing.
Having none of the film lip synced sounded like a good idea on paper but in reality it was not the best choice. First off, Russell Crowe is not a very good singer. Why they hired someone to star as one of the leads in a musical, where every word is sung, that was not a good singer and needed three months of vocal lessons is beyond me. Russell Crowe certainly did his best but they should have cast somebody for the part that could sing the part. As I said earlier, the show stopping ensemble numbers were outstanding but I did not like many of the solos. The lack of lip syncing restricted the actors movements, making many of the more dramatic scenes seem restrained and boxed in. Many of the shots turned into close-ups of flared nostrils and much of the dialogue lost its emphasis and purpose. The person that stood out, in my opinion, was Anne Hathaway. Her acting was superb and her solo was absolutely stunning.
Les Miserables is an example of a film that should have been nominated for Oscars but not necessarily for Best Picture. Anne Hathway earned herself a nomination for Best Supporting actress and Hugh Jackman was nominated for Best Actor. Both of those nominations were well deserved and based on the films I have seen so far, Anne Hathaway should win Best Supporting Actress. The film also deserved its nominations in Achievement in Sound Mixing, Achievement in Production Design, Achievement in Costume Design and Achievement in Makeup and Hair Styling. The film was also nominated for Best Original Song. Why they made an original song for a film based on a musical is beyond me. Les Miserables was nominated for Best Picture but I do not think it should win, in fact I’m not even sure if I think it should have been nominated. It is the weakest of the best pictures nominees I have seen so far. The film, a 6 out of 10 film for me, had some great performances but had fundamental flaws that should have kept it out of the Best Picture category.