Cert: 12 A Runtime: 157 mins Director: Tom Hooper Cast: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen
To love another person is to see the face of God
Les Misérables is one of the biggest musicals of all time, to hear that this musical was made into a film is insanity. But with Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper at the helm (you know it will be safe). With and all star cast and 8 Oscar nominations in the bag, you know it’s destined for greatness. So what is Les Misérables? Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables’ travels with prisoner-on-parole, 24601, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), as he runs from the ruthless Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) on a journey beyond the barricades, at the center of the June Rebellion. Meanwhile, the life of a working class girl with a child is at turning point for Fantine (Anne Hathaway) as she turns to prostitution to pay money to the evil innkeeper and his wife who look after her child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen/Amanda Seyfried). Valjean promises to take care of the child, eventually leads to a love triangle between Cosette, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who is a student of the rebellion, and Eponine (Samantha Barks), a girl of the streets. The people sing of their anger and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) leads the students to fight upon the barricades.The guiding ethic of any film adaptation of a legendary source must be: “Change as little as possible.” Those in charge of Les Mis knew precisely what they were working with. A few songs are shortened, a handful of lines altered, and a few scenarios condensed or adapted to their original literary form, but the whole remains gloriously and satisfyingly intact.
It’s pretty much of an endurance marathon sitting through close to three hours, where unlike a musical or a stage play, you’d get an intermission. For starters it takes some getting used to, because every spoken word is sung (yes I know it’s a musical) almost back to back, with the multitude of recognizable tunes from Work Song to Do You Hear The People Sing sung by the cast members, who have been put through singing lessons, otherwise one can guess how this would turn out if sounding less than professional. Hugh Jackman was fairly inconsistent in delivery, but I will admit that man made me cry numerous times. He was the right choice to play Valjean, sounds like I hated him but I didn’t. Russell Crowe proved that he can’t do this full time, since his Javert almost always came off quite one-note, and having a distinct lack of feel for the character (his singing did entertain me but for the wrong reasons). Anne Hathaway on the other hand, nailed it spot on with her I Dreamed a Dream, the best thing in the film.Film as a medium to present musicals have always been a fascinating journey, because of the characteristics that come with the medium. With film, it allows for expansive sets to be constructed, taking on a more three dimensional feel to the story telling since it’s not just being on stage in front of you. Camera movement helps to provide spatial content, with jump cuts also producing an equivalent effect if necessary to move the narrative from location to location in double quick time.But while the medium had opened up space, Hooper took on an intent to allow audiences a different experience, in putting us up close and personal with the performers. This is something one rarely gets in a staged musical because even the first row is a distance away.
Hooper puts us just next to the characters with his plenty of close ups, that we probably get to see every facial expression and twitch as the characters express themselves through song. So once the actors open their mouths, we’re put right there in the thick of the action, whether you’d like it or not. It makes for an engrossing watch, but for the quality art direction and lush production values to be appreciated, your eyes have to quickly dart around before the next musical number comes on.You’d have your own personal favourite scenes from the musical, and I have three – with the three way romance between Cosette, Marius and Eponine which is ever so brief but no less making a tremendous impact, having Jean Valjean go up against Javert in every instance to allow one to determine whether Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe would fare better than the other when they sing, and the limited scenes in which Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter make their appearance as the thieving Thenardiers, providing comic relief for the very heavy themes and story line involving one man’s redemption, rivalry, tragic romance, all against the backdrop of a student led armed revolt.I have had the luxury of sitting through a live stage performance of this musical, Tom Hooper has done enough to drum my interest to a level high enough to want to watch it in the West End again. Meanwhile, make do with this lavish production meant for the screen, and be immersed in a world and story as first envisioned by Victor Hugo, and adapted from the Cameron Mackintosh musical. I have written this review with my critic eye I must admit, rather than my fan boy eye. But rest assured I did enjoy the film, it’s not very often this man is reduced to tears in the cinema let me tell you that.