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Nordling Says Tom Hooper's LES MISERABLES Is A Passionate Adaptation Of The Beloved Play!

Nordling here.

Disclaimer – I have not seen the stage version of LES MISERABLES.  I’ve read Victor Hugo’s novel, but it’s been many years.  People out there who are sticklers to the source material, both stage play or book – fair warning. LES MISERABLES the stage play is much beloved, and those who are married to it may find the movie, at the very least, mildly disconcerting.

That’s because Tom Hooper isn’t interested in simply reenacting the play.  Hooper has remembered something essential that, I feel, too many directors turning stage musicals into movies have forgotten – that musicals have to work as a movie first, with the appropriate scale, intimacy, and immediacy. Films like RENT try too hard to reenact the stage show when a wider, more generous vision is required.  Belting out a song to the back rows of a stage production is quite different than singing a song onscreen.  Onscreen, the effect is immediate, and the rapport with the audience is instant.  We are there when Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed A Dream” and we share in her woes.  On stage, there is a literal and figurative distance to the goings-on, and so much of the emotion is overplayed just to make it to the back of the theater.

LES MISERABLES dispenses with the formalities.  This is big, bold entertainment, and after seeing it like this I’m not sure I would enjoy the distance of the stage play.  There are moments in LES MISERABLES that are full of emotion and heartbreak – Tom Hooper, instead of recording the music and singing in post-production, wisely has the actors perform and sing in front of the camera, and the result is something far more cinematic and meaningful.  Hearing “I Dreamed A Dream” on stage is one thing, but here we are thrust into Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) complete and utter despair, and in one take and three minutes Hathaway gives probably the best performance of her career.  This is a song about the acceptance of hell, and Hathaway holds nothing back.  It is a raw, passionate moment.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole after years of hard labor, sentenced because he stole a loaf of bread.  Javert (Russell Crowe) reminds Valjean that he will always be a criminal, and if Valjean slips once, or fails to report his parole, Javert will be there to pursue him.  One night Valjean comes to a monastery, and in a fit of rage and desperation steals their silver.  However, when he is caught, the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson) refuses to indict Valjean.  Breaking his parole, Valjean vows to use his new money and his life for good.

When Valjean fails to save Fantine, one of his factory employees, from despair, prostitution, and death, he decides to give the best life he can to her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child, Amanda Seyfried as a young adult), who is being held at the Thenardiers’ (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) house of ill repute.  For years, Valjean and Cosette are in hiding from the cruel Javert, but when Cosette falls in love with the young rebel Marius (Eddie Redmayne), Valjean realizes that his life of running from Javert is coming to an end.  As for Javert, he will do everything in his power to bring Jean Valjean to justice, and to stop the rebellion brewing in Paris’ streets.

Hugh Jackman is at his pinnacle playing Jean Valjean – finally he has found a character that encompasses all of his considerable talents.  Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are also terrific, with wonderful singing voices and the passion to go along with them.  But Hathaway is the real revelation in LES MISERABLES – her short screen time makes an impact through the entire movie.  As for Russell Crowe, his singing voice is a bit abrasive in comparison to the other talent on display, and while his performance works, his singing is jarring at times.  But again, it adds to the immediacy of Tom Hooper’s work adapting the play.  Because Hooper is making a movie and not a stage musical, Crowe’s rock and roll voice works for the most part.  Jackman has had years of stage experience and Crowe simply can’t compete with that – instead, Crowe’s voice is the discordant note that marks him as the villain of the piece.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter bring much needed levity to the sometimes dire tone of the movie.   Samantha Barks as Eponine, the woman who pines for Marius as he becomes smitten with Cosette, is also very good – her voice is lovely and rich. 

There is very little spoken dialogue in LES MISERABLES, and there are moments that may remind more savvy audiences of the parody in SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER, AND UNCUT.  Those who don’t enjoy musicals in general certainly won’t be swayed by LES MISERABLES.  It makes no apologies for wearing its emotions on its sleeve.  But I’ve always admired musicals.  I especially love musicals that are more cinematic than stagy – like the Busby Berkeley musicals of old, LES MISERABLES remembers that the vast playground that is the cinema screen is far less limiting than the stage, and Tom Hooper has stayed loyal to the source and yet has made it seem new and real in a way that the stage could not hope to achieve.  For fans of the stage play, the movie may be too immediate – the singing is definitely rawer and less polished, but the trade-off for that is that the performances feel so much more genuine because of it.  The emotion on display here strikes directly at the audience’s soul.   This is no sterile adaptation of the stage play – LES MISERABLES is passionate and true.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 19, 2012, 4:47 p.m. CST

    without this movie

    by mick vance

    i would have no idea what anne hathaway's vagina sort of looks like...

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 4:51 p.m. CST

    It's sideways like them Asian's I reckon.

    by UltraTron

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5 p.m. CST

    Les Reaganomics

    by David Duchovny

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5 p.m. CST

    I have only seen the trailer but....

    by eric haislar

    Hathaway is a lock for winning best supporting actress. I mean my god, you can tell just from the trailer that it is a performance for the ages.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:01 p.m. CST

    ♪ Master of the house, doling out the charm

    by Denty420

    ... Ready with a handshake and an open arm.... ♫ Love the stage musical. I'm sure I'll love this. Nice review, Nordles.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:05 p.m. CST

    Pain and Gain will be a better movie.

    by Fries Against

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:10 p.m. CST

    Lock for Best Pic, Nordling?

    by Logan_1973

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:46 p.m. CST

    The name of the movie is Les Miserables

    by John Walker

    And when you see it you'll know the name, and what it stands for. Suck it.

  • ...without having seen the musical itself?!? "Is A Passionate Adaptation Of The Beloved Play" "This is no sterile adaptation of the stage play – LES MISERABLES is passionate and true." Ummmmm.... how do you know if you've never seen the source material? "Hearing “I Dreamed A Dream” on stage is one thing". Really, it is, but you wouldn't know this. Horrible review, Nordling. You chose an angle from which you have no knowledge to back yourself up. If you know nothing of the stage play, other than the fact that it exists, than don't write about it. And certainly don't write about it as a means to compare the film - You can't compare it if you haven't seen it. You should have simply written about the film and its worth as a film.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:48 p.m. CST

    coolhandjuke ...Excellent Observation, 100% Correct.

    by conspiracy

    I'll be seeing this Christmas Night most probably...but the vision of Anne's hot honey pot has been playing on a loop since I saw it.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 6:01 p.m. CST

    What A Horrible Movie

    by topaz4206

    Walked out of a free screening after 20 minutes. And my wife is a huge fan of that 4 hr movie with Malkovich. This is one of those musicals that Howard Stern always makes fun of, where they sing EVERY SINGLE WORD. I don't mind when songs are organically woven into a movie, like Chicago, but no matter how serious or short a dialogue exchange, they're singing. Even things "how are youuuu. Fine, thank youuuu." EVERYTHING. It really felt like parody. Too bad too, because the film is absolutely stunning to look at. I'd love to see a dramatic non-musical version with all the same cast and crew. But this Broadway shit is awful.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 6:31 p.m. CST

    Balance does not exist in this dojo

    by Cobra--Kai

    Have to agree with fievel. Nordling, this just comes off as an incredibly unbalanced and badly judged review. Youve taken the approach throughout your review of comparing and referencing the movie with the stage muscial. Fine, thats a reasonable enough hook to hang a review on... EXCEPT YOUVE NEVER SEEN THE STAGE MUSICAL?!?!?!?!?! Weak. What on Earth were you thinking?!?

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 6:57 p.m. CST

    Anne Hathaway with lice and fishy cooze

    by David Duchovny

    is still Anne Hathaway. I'd hit it.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 7:12 p.m. CST


    by ChicagoRonin

    Amazing, you guys have single-handedly reinforced every stereotype of AICN news posters being a bunch of moronic, immature boy-men with sophomoric humor and juvenile tastes. (Albeit - I haven't seen the movie yet, so who knows, maybe you're right in your assessments, but jeez, the words you choose . . . )

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 7:24 p.m. CST

    Whooo are you calling a boy-mannnnn

    by topaz4206

    Me? Oh meeeee? Why? Why? I've only trieeeed to do the best I cannnnn....why must I be oppressed by the mannnnnn. The man? The man, I sayyyyy...why do they hurt me and say that I'm gayyyyyyyyy! There, I just saved you $12.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 7:26 p.m. CST

    My take on the review .........

    by Clio

    First of all, I've seen the musical 15 times, twice in the states and 13 times in London, so yeah I'm a fan. On one hand, Nordling does a disservice trying to compare the movie with a stage musical he's never seen. But he is right that those people sitting in the far reaches of the balcony don't have that immediacy that a movie can give. I once got to sit front row, center, about 8 ft. from the stage and it felt like I was part of the musical, far different from seats much farther back, where the music is key. I think the movie will be great.....well, except for Crowe's singing. I can't imagine how Javert's signature song, *Stars* will end up sounding, no matter how many excuses Nordling makes for him. I know it will be a completely different experience than the stage, but my wife and I are looking forward to it. Change can be good.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 7:33 p.m. CST


    by Paul Macadom

    Jackman's voice is weak, Crowe's is nonexistent. The rest of the cast range from poor to mediocre, with the only real exception being Hathaway. This thing is horribly shot, the staging is repetitive as fuck, and Hooper has no imagination. Major let down.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 7:35 p.m. CST

    The poster above is TERRIBLE ...


  • Dec. 19, 2012, 7:40 p.m. CST

    Get over yourself Krinkle....

    by john

    You sound like a gigantic douchebag

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 8:23 p.m. CST

    Musicals make me want to hit people. Really hard.

    by Raptor Jesus

    Always have. I don't know why. I don't think there's another wrong with musicals. They probably don't deserve this. It's definately me. Maybe I have a brain tumor. Oh dear God, not a brain tumor. Maybe I'll just not see this.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 8:29 p.m. CST

    who says musicals have to be pg13... fucking lame ass holes

    by Creative

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 8:36 p.m. CST

    Is it weird that Nordling keeps calling Les Miz a 'play'?

    by Calibos's Ginger JewFro

    I mean technically I suppose one could say it is a musical play, but Ive never heard it referred to as such. Usually a play and a musical are considered separate things. I don't even know why I'm even fucking mentioning it. carry on.

  • Keep musicals out of the theater and limit them to the stage. Thanks.

  • Go back to watching Transformers and playing Call of Duty, man-children. An adaptation by an award winning director based on a smash-hit musical which in turn was based on one of the seminal works of literature in the 19th century? I'm sure your peon brains are spinning. The closest most of you came to social justice at the cinema this year was The Dark Knight Rises. My mother put my meds in sugar so I would take them down, too. If you need your social justice with a superhero so you'll watch it, I guess that's fine, but can't we do better? I know, I know, you actually have to pay attention and there are no 'splosions. I'm sure you will trash the film on that basis. Let's give Hugh Jackman his claws back and put a sword in Russell Crowe's hands. Thats only way most of you lumpenproles will turn out for this film..

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 9:14 p.m. CST

    statue this film is a raping of the original stage play.

    by Creative

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 10:16 p.m. CST


    by Hugh Gustavus

    Pipe down chorus boy!

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 10:18 p.m. CST

    hugh finally making the most of his talents

    by Hugh Gustavus

    instead of wearing plastic claws for a living

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 10:28 p.m. CST

    Lol @ statue1

    by Paul Macadom

    Making out like Les Miserables in musical form has high artistic merit. I'm as big a les Mis fanboy as the next musical theatre nerd, but trying to frame it as in any way nuanced or subtle just makes you look like a twat. Cardboard cut outs singing bombastic songs for three hours, that's all. Which is why the material is a disaster in the hands of a hack like Hooper.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 12:27 a.m. CST


    by KDog629

    "I'm as big a les Mis fanboy as the next musical theatre nerd" - - - "Cardboard cut outs singing bombastic songs for three hours". Call me crazy, but I feel like you're NOT a Les Miz fanboy.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 12:37 a.m. CST

    Beginning to appreciate the "seen it for a month now" bit

    by RandySavage

    At first I was confused, but it's starting to become entertaining...

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 12:48 a.m. CST


    by Paul Macadom

    Love it to death, favorite musical of all time. I can recognize its flaws, and see no need to paint it as something it's not. Can a fanboy not be objective?

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 2:35 a.m. CST

    A beloved play?

    by Garett

    Um ok. So the fact i think the miserables is garbage and not worth my time wasting money on means jack.. Sweet.. However sheeple, i will point out that this is one of the FIRST Original movies in a very long time out of a major production company.. So its either i support originality and watch shit like this or dont support originality and wait for close encounter of the thrid kind the reimagining or that shitty b movie the stuff the remake cause all these tards do is rip you idiots off by redoing movies that already are available to you on any demand or dvd blu ray rental site store etc.... Stop paying for garbage.. Ps fuck you i dont speak french its Center not Centre ffs Tre ? naaaah that would be Cent-ray No? ahhh i see so its Dr. Der then

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 2:39 a.m. CST


    by Garett

    Alot of the newer writers on this site are kind of douchey, i stopped readin any article by most of the noobs because its a pussy smelling love fest every time.. Grow a sack kid get mad express that betrayal and anger like a real nerd of the net!. Most of Nordlings articles are mushy love fests no matter how shitty the movie or how many remakes led to its current adaption.. Jesus at this rate Elvis should be making a comeback by 2020. Leave Classic Films alone, if you cant come up with something original close your production company we do not need another piece of shit remake thats forgotten by dvd!

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 4:28 a.m. CST

    It`s not Singing in the Rain is it ?

    by higgledyhiggles

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 4:45 a.m. CST


    by Denty420

    ♪ Everybody's boon companion, everybody's chaperone... ♫

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 7:15 a.m. CST

    The musical is garbage.

    by MikeTheSpike

    You people defending the musical realize it's treacly garbage on-par with Rent and Phantom of the Opera, right? Nobody who actually enjoys real musicals enjoys this production.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 7:49 a.m. CST

    Gotta be better than Phantom's movie treatment

    by Keith

    That was just painful, and I'm a Phantom Phan. Hope this really does a good job.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 8:37 a.m. CST

    Tobe Hooper's Les Miserables?

    by obijuanmartinez

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 10:25 a.m. CST


    by KDog629

    Pray tell, Mike...what ARE some "real" musicals? The ones you don't think are "real" are among the most successful and longest running of all time, including the two most successful ever, so what's "real" to you?

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 10:46 a.m. CST

    um yeah, comparing Les Miz to Rent or Phantom?

    by Ultron ver 2.0

    good lord...

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 11:13 a.m. CST

    Musical reviews

    by thepoohguy

    Can't wait to see this one, but over all, probably my movie favorites are: 1. My Fair Lady - Best American Score ever written 2. The Sound of Music - Julie Andrews at her best 3. Mary Poppins - Best family film of all time 4. White Christmas - Not sure if this is a real musical as the songs don't push the story 5. Grease - ONJ in skin tight pants and teased hair, need I say more? Agreed about recent treatments, especially Phantom. First off Gerard Butler...HUGE MISTAKE. God was he awful. Second, they fail to capture the importance of the stage musical which is that the audience is "part" of the musical, for God's sake the chandelier sits over the audience!

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 11:15 a.m. CST

    re: "What A Horrible Movie" by topaz4206

    by jim

    Just because it's not to your liking doesn't make it horrible. What's more organic than songs woven into a world where all dialogue is sung? That sounds much more organic than people speaking normally 3/4 of the time, and sporadically breaking out in a song and dance number. But, I guess if Howard Stern finds this sort of thing lame, well that's the definitive word, right? p.s. there are several non-musical versions already out there. I think the most recent is the '90s Liam Neeson one. It doesn't have this cast, but if this weren't a musical, it might very well have had a different cast anyway.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 11:22 a.m. CST


    by MikeTheSpike

    Popularity does not equal quality. Or I guess you're a big One Direction fan, right? Anyway, actual good musicals are My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, How to Succeed, The Band Wagon, Singin' in the Rain, and others that have good songs, are aware of their inherent corniness and don't take themselves so drearily serious. You know, stuff that 14-year-old girls don't mope around over.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 11:35 a.m. CST

    So, what you're saying is

    by jim

    there haven't been any good musicals written in the last 50 years?

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 11:36 a.m. CST


    by KDog629

    I hate 1D with every fiber of my being, but that's mostly cause they're ruining Taylor Swift. As for popularity, I can't put it any better than this direct quote from the great Jeff Bebe, of the legendary Stillwater: "Show me any guy who ever said he didn't want to be popular, and I'll show you a scared guy. I've studied the entire history of music. Most of the time, the best stuff IS the popular stuff. It's much safer to say popularity sucks, because that allows you to forgive yourself if you suck."

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 11:39 a.m. CST

    @mikethespike part deux

    by KDog629

    Also, quality is subjective and depends entirely on the point of view of the speaker. Popularity is objective and can be easily measured by numbers. To quote yet another Cameron Crowe character, "It ain't show friends. It's show business."

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 12:42 p.m. CST

    You Mean the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" guy is now doing musicals?

    by Jack Desmondi

    Oh, I get it. It was Tobe's evil twin brother Tom who did this. Oh well, Tobe-there's always "Wicked" to be done.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 12:49 p.m. CST

    Have any of you actually read the book?

    by kidicarus

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 1 p.m. CST

    Popularity is a strange thing

    by jim

    Most popular show on TV is watched by no more than 10% of the population. In other words, 90% of the country isn't watching the most popular show on TV. However, if something can remain popular for over 25 years, there's more to it than it being a flash in the pan or the current "thing". Popularity is one thing (let's see if One Direction is still going strong in 2037), but longevity is something else. The popularity of Les Miserables goes beyond mopey 14 year old girls, and has lasted over a quarter-century. It's not for everybody, but its appeal is far wider than any here today/gone tomorrow flavour-of-the-month could ever hope to match.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 2:05 p.m. CST

    Big Jim

    by MikeTheSpike

    Indeed, there have been no great musicals for generations. This is exactly what I'm saying. And who cares about popularity? George Bush was elected twice and the Nazis were voted in. You can't go by what the unwashed masses are thinking. People who know good musicals know that Les Mis is overserious mush.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 4:25 p.m. CST


    by KDog629

    People who know good musicals = People who agree with me. (smiling oh so smugly as he sips his tea and pets his cat)

  • Is a serious-themed musical an oxymoron?

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 7:48 p.m. CST

    Mikethespike. Best. Comic-Book-Guy riff. Evar...

    by Billyeveryteen

    Try looking up MISERABLES and put your big-boy pants on.

  • Dec. 21, 2012, 2:19 p.m. CST

    What a major jump from the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre!

    by 2for2true

    What? Tom? Not Tobe?

  • Dec. 21, 2012, 2:20 p.m. CST

    I'd like to take this opportunity to apolgize to Leatherface.

    by 2for2true

    Although you gotta admit, he'd make a terrific Jen Val Jean.

  • Dec. 21, 2012, 5:25 p.m. CST

    My take on the film

    by alpha

    Not a huge fan of the stage version - it's long and the songs on the whole dont really grab me. Big fan of this film version though. Jackman is superb as is Hathaway, liked the choice to have people sing live and I thought film brought an intamacy that I didn't get from the stage version. The songs are still a little subpar from my point of view but I thought they were performed well. Even Crowe worked well although I understand why some people criticised his voice I really thought it worked. Musicals where the dialogue is sung are an aquired taste - I like Rent even through all it's flaws. If you cant stand that style of musical stay way way away from this because you simply wont like it but if you can tolerate that style then I'd strongly recommend this. Come awards time expect Jackman & Hathaway to win a fair few too because both of them are very strong here.

  • Dec. 23, 2012, 3:55 p.m. CST

    Rent was not a faithful adaptation

    by Movidude74

    you lost me when you posited that Rent was a faithful adaptation It spread the first act out over a week instead of an night They changed the way Roger found out about his and April's condition and her death which in turn removes his excuse for being so untrusting of Mimi and general assholishness They remove Benny's redemption They cut my favorite song Les Mis is a far more faithful adaptation than Rent was. And both are infinitely more faithful than Shankman's Random 80's Movie, which had nothing to do with Rock of Ages