Home Movies First Review: “Les Miserables” Comes to Movies with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe,...

Cheers and a standing ovation this afternoon at the first screening of the film version of “Les Miserables.” Tom Hooper, Oscar winner for The King’s Speech, has made a thrilling, sensational epic of the legendary Broadway show. This now becomes the “Titanic” of this year’s awards season, the epic film to beat. Hugh Jackman is a triumph as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway sings the heck out of the film’s big numbers, and Samantha Barks just about steals the film. Russell Crowe makes for a solid Javert. And the many supporting players, especially Aaron Tveit, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried, are top notch.

Universal Pictures with help from Peggy Siegal put on two blockbuster screenings this afternoon and this evening at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Anne Hathaway, husband Adam Schulman, and Anne’s parents Gerry and Kate sat right in front of me. It was the second time this week that Anne, who plays Fantine, sat down and watched the film all the way through. Hooper gives her the first of his many signature closeups as she sings “I Dreamed a Dream” and brings down the house. As Fantine, Hathaway breathes life into the tortured waif whose saga spurs Jean Valjean through the post-French Revolution years and student uprisings of he 1830s. She will be a Best Supporting Actress nominee. And with any luck she’ll sing on the Oscars.

Jackman and co-star Crowe were not present tonight, but Hathaway, Redmayne, Barks and director Hooper sat for a Q&A with Columbia film professor Annette Insdorf. We learned that there was no lipsynching–everything was sung live, and you can feel it. Barks and Tveit, however, are the Voices with a capital V in this film. There is no denying their accomplishment in this inordinately well cast film.

The other pair who stand out are Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, straight out of Tim Burton’s film of “Sweeney Todd.” (“Les Miz” diehards won’t like this, but much of this show is influenced, ahem, by “Sweeney Todd” and Stephen Sondheim.) HBC and SBC are absolutely hilarious and wily together. They also get to sing “Master of the House,” the comic number with loads of nods to “More Hot Pies” from the other musical. As Cossette’s guardians, and parents of Eponine (Barks), they are indelible fun.

And then there’s Hugh Jackman. He’ll be nominated for Best Actor and will likely win. The movie hangs on him, and he carries it from beginning to end. It’s his best work ever, the pinnacle for him as he combines his musical and dramatic talents. Hooper said in the Q&A he wouldn’t have made the movie if Jackman didn’t exist, and he’s right. This is the role of a lifetime, like Robert Goulet in “Camelot.” Wolverine may have to break out in song in his next film.

Tom Hooper steered this ship, and it’s a massive cruise liner. The thing Hooper does so well is bring history to life–whether it’s John Adams or Queen Elizabeth I or the stuttering King George. In the “John Adams” miniseries, there’s a great breakfast scene in which John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all get together in Paris. It’s as if we’re eavesdropping on these famous but inaccessible people. In “Les Miz,” Hooper pulls off just this trick. The canvas is broad but the characters are intimate and so well drawn that you feel you know them, and their French revolt, by the time the end comes.

I went to the 25th anniversday show of “Les Miz” at the O2 Arena in London a couple of years ago. People from around the world are devoted to this show. These armies of “Les Miz” fans will not be disappointed by this film. Something tells me they will see it three and four times.



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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
140 replies to this post
  1. the miserables, musical created in France, written and composed by the French, but that of course! is not at all mentioned in the article or in the comments; give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar please

  2. Loved it……Saw the play many many years ago and this was just as good in a different way. Thought the cast was incredible….especially Hugh Jackman. And yes, I saw Lincoln but think this could be Hugh’s time!

  3. 1776 WAS ABOUT THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION and face it would b critics the american musical is the only real contribution to the legitimate art world so quit knocking it (yes i know les miz is not american but it still epitomizes our only legitimate world contribution to culture)

  4. yes…the musical sweeney todd predates the musical of les miserables…but the original french version…I believe it was called 1776..or some other date…was pre- sweeney todd…it may even have only been a concert version ,or concept album…..I remember seeing the bootleg in high school from Paris…1978?…maybe earlier…???

  5. @Aj – You’re probably not worth arguing with, but why exactly do you condemn this as trash? Because it’s a musical? You do realize that some of the greatest works of art of the last century were musicals, right?

    As for the insults – they say much more about you than they do about anyone who is looking forward to this movie.

    @Bob Lee – It seems you only know of one kind of musical – the all-singing, all-dancing, all-cheerful Astaire & Rogers/Busby Berkeley kind. That kind is often great, but there are other, more serious kinds that are just as great.

    To put it another way, musicals aren’t just fluffy entertainment. They can tackle complex subjects and have surprising emotional depth.

    Example: “Sweeney Todd” is one of the greatest musicals ever written – and one of the greatest works of art of the twentieth century – and it’s about a barber who kills his clients and bakes them into pies. It’s a tragic (though often darkly comedic) work that features one of the best and most complex scores and some of the best lyrics ever written for a musical.

    Another example: “Parade.” The story of the real life lynching of a Jewish man who was framed for the rape and murder of a child. And a great musical – one that in no way trivializes the events it depicts.

    Yet another example: “Les Miserables.” It’s not a celebration of any revolution, nor does it trivialize the bloodshed. Rather, it’s a story of forgiveness and redemption and the bloody cost of revolution. It also features an incredible score.

    Also, you’re thinking of the wrong revolution.

    Also, you don’t know what irony is.

    Also, it really is best to know what you’re talking about before you start talking.

  6. Only the most simple of human being would find trash like this of any entertainment value. “Duuuuuh, it’s the biggest season for Hollywood and movies ever.” LMAO, so how does this joke figure into that?? Skyfalk is THEE “sole” reason for that. This joke has nothing to do with it.

  7. I am astonished that so many people are historically ignorant. The story is not about the French Revolution; it is about the 1832 Student Rebellion in Paris, with echoes of the 1848 Uprising also in Paris. The association of the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, as well as the waving of red falgs and revolutionary lyrics, have led some people to think that the musical celebrates the revolutionay left. However, if you pay close attention, you will find multiple references to God’s saving grace: the punctuation mark being the reprise of “Do you hear the people sing” in the Finale with new stanzas:

    do you hear the people sing
    Lost in the valley of the night?
    It is the music of a people
    who are climbing to the light.

    For the wretched of the earth
    there is a flame that never dies.
    Even the darkest night will end
    and the sun will rise.

    They will live again in freedom
    in the garden of the Lord.
    They will walk behind the ploughshare;
    they will put away the sword.
    The chain will be broken
    and all men will have their reward.

  8. Maybe this is good timing for a musical, but frankly, I don’t see how it will be profitable. The audience for a musical is so limited and in this day and age of ROI, I can’t believe they would even try. What’s next, a musical about Hitler, oh wait, hasn’t that been done lol!

  9. Saw this remarkable film yesterday at a screening sponsored by the film editors guild in LA. People need to stop comparing the film to the book or a previous non-musical version with Liam Neeson. It is a different medium than either, and it is like saying the R & H musical South Pacific didn’t hold a candle to Michener’s book or WW2 itself. Jackman deserves a Best Actor nomination without a doubt, but how the Academy will vote is anybody’s guess. There easily could be 6 or 7 Supporting Actor nominations out of this, as well as Best Director and nods in all of the technical categories. Costumes, cinematography & editing are phenomenal. This one could definitely be the ‘Titanic’ of the year. But most of all, I enjoyed it immensely, and the 2-1/2 hours passed in a blink of the eye. I wanted much more, but knowing the work, I knew when the end was near. Take a box of Kleenex, BTW!

  10. If one listens carefully, the lyrics written for Les Miserables are among the most beautiful ever written. We have seen it in theatres in New York and Florida, and like many, fear the film will lose something. But from what I’m hearing, it might even surpass the live rendition, though that would be hard to believe.

  11. I saw a preview/extensive commentary for this film before Wreck it Ralph. I have to say, the Les Miserables snippets, cast interviews and background info. were much more interesting than the film I actually saw. And I am not a huge musical fan.

  12. Jackman is one of the most talented performers around, equally at home on film and on stage, he’s the only one who can keep up with the greatest actors of the Hollywood golden age. As an actor/performer, he has shown his dramatic acting range, his ability to generate excitement in intensely physical roles, and now the film genre will see his much vaunted musical theatre talent for which he won two Tony Awards. This is a fact that just incompetents and dumb haters would persist in denying, it’s time that people stop underestimating an actor of such versatility like him. If the Academy Award jurors did not yet realized, it’s better that they change job.

  13. To celebrate, with music and song, one of history’s bloodiest and brutal revolutions is indeed a fine irony matched on by Lenin and Stalin’s equally bloody slaughter. I forgot, Moa’s Cultural Revolution with 45 million Chinese slaughtered. What next ? Artistes carrying, prancing around the stage with their “Little Red Books” singing the praises of Mao.?

  14. This is a big issue in many responses today. I have already praised DDL as Lincoln. He is a phenomenal actor. But he’s also won two Oscars for best actor. Denzel has two Oscars. Bradley Cooper and Joaquin Phoenix have not. Those are the four who I think may compete with Hugh Jackman. I do think the Academy loves him, he’s very popular, and this may be his year.

  15. I have been waiting so long for this! I’m sure I will see it MANY times. Hugh Jackman is such an incredible actor and singer! Can’t wait for this! The clips are just making me even more anxious to see it! I hope it walks away with all the top honors at the Oscars!

  16. I’m afraid Jackman will be Daniel Day-Lewised. Perhaps they should have released this next year. Did you even see Lincoln? Pretty bold statement declaring Jackman the winner.

  17. The original book is an outstanding work of fiction and accurate historical context. Victor Hugo accurately describes the division of the people and families over their loyalties. To read the book puts you in a time machine. Descriptions of the horror of the reign of terror following the initial French Revolution and the entire battle of Waterloo flesh out the background of the people and their loyalties and struggles. America is as divided today as France was at that time between the loyalists to the King, the revolutionaries and those that followed Napolean. It was one of the best books I have read in my life.

    The musical is very beautiful, and stresses the theme of forgiveness both human and Divine. However, it is not able to encompass the different loyalties. It does make the revolutionaries look lilke the heroes. However, the book puts them in context.

    The French had a very bloody and divisive revolution as they wanted to destroy the Church and throw God out in their quest to rule themself. America’s revolution embraced God and the free exercise of our religion in the new government. Unfortunately, now America is divided as our government is moving to take religion and God out of the public square, ie the HHS mandate for one example.

  18. It’s a musical ?! Oh .. barf ! Why can’t they leave literature alone?
    If you want a thrilling, true-to-book [more of less] movie, then
    Liam Neeson’s version was the epitome of movies.

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