I went into Les Mis cautiously optimistic. On the one hand it won pretty much every Golden Globe award, but on the other hand it's a classical period-piece musical set in France with a primarily non-American cast directed by the guy that did The King's Speech, so of course it won those awards. I'd just seen Silver Linings Playbook a few days prior, so I was excited to be surprised again by a film of a generally low-quality genre. To put it simply, Les Mis didn't exactly do that for me.
For any of you that don't know, this entire film is performed musically. There are no traditionally acted sequences at all, excepting a handful of single lines here and there. I wonder why they didn't just get the actors to sing those few lines, because they certainly did that at other points and all they achieved was make you realise how the musical nature of the film was doing nothing but hold it back.
It's not that I'm against musicals, it's just that most of the time the music doesn't serve any purpose. Les Mis is a perfect example of this. All it does is make it more difficult for us to suspend our disbelief. What makes it even worse it that the film is shot as if it were an ordinary movie. It often feels as if they were just making a normal film but the actors simply decided to sing all their lines. There are several instances where the actors are not singing to a song but are instead just having musical conversations with each other, and it feels so uncomfortable! If they're singing a song it's okay, because at least it feels right. Why couldn't they just chuck some music behind it and make it sound okay?
And when they did sing entire songs, they had absolutely no substance. They basically paused the movie for three minutes so they could tell you how character abc123 felt, which could have been conveyed in two seconds were they to make use of the wonderful visual technique that is facial expressions! In theatre it's okay to tell the audience how you feel because most of them are too far away to see your face, but cinema doesn't have that problem. It makes the movie drag and demonstrates a lack of skill at adapting to a new medium.
Another paramount problem is that the two actors with the most screen time - Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe - can't sing to save their life! Why the fuck would you let them lead a musical?!?!? I suppose having Academy Award-winning actors is more important than having actors that can sing. But aside from the main two, everybody did a good job. Anne Hathaway was by far the standout performer, and Amanda Seyfreid did a particularly good job too.
One thing I could appreciate was the set design. Every set was made as if it were for a stage performance, while never looking cheap or losing a sense of scale. However, sometimes the CG backgrounds and green-screens were a little too easy to spot (look out in Russell Crowe's soliloquies).
But here's what pissed me off the most. This movie, with its primarily female demographic, was completely misogonistic! (SOME SPOILERS HERE - SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU WANT) Almost every female character in this entire film has a man looking after her, and the only one that doesn't has her entire humanity stripped from her and then just lays down and dies! Hugh Jackman's character is some kind of immortal demigod who spends his entire life on a mission to take care of as many apparently helpless women as possible. Another supposedly likeable character uses the girl that's been in love with him all his life and wants nothing more than to serve him as a tool to get to some elusive girl he doesn't even know. And once he's done that he just forgets about the other girl, despite the fact that she's been his lifelong friend! Like, I know it's an old story as all, but fuck!
I didn't dislike Les Mis as much as it seems. It was an unremarkable film and yet another musical that is held back by its genre because it doesn't make use of it. Instead of seeing this, go see one of the many better movies that are screening at the moment. Or check out some of the less hyped Oscar nominees like Beasts of the Sourhen Wild or Moonrise Kingdom, which you can probably rent for a song.