“Les Miserables” has been the talk of the film industry for months now – first came the behind-the-scenes video, then came the news that the first screening received a standing ovation and brought the audience to tears, and most recently came the announcement that the cast held sing-a-longs to bond. And today, December 25, 2012, after months of eagerly waiting, moviegoers could finally see Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables.”
If you’re a movie or musical lover, stop reading the review now and rush to the theaters – this movie is for you. However, for those who aren’t huge fans of either, tread cautiously. The film is undoubtedly brilliant, and it’s certainly going to be the frontrunner in the competition for “Best Picture” at this year’s Oscars, but it’s still a musical – a three hour musical.
Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel, “Les Miserables,” has been adapted countless times for both the stage and the screen, yet Tom Hooper has somehow managed to breathe new life into the story in his production.
Hooper, who helmed the spectacular “King’s Speech,” has once again proven his directorial expertise through a complete mastery of cinematography and sound. As the actors’ explained in the behind-the-scenes feature, all of the singing was, for the first time, shot live – and it makes the movie phenomenal. Hooper’s decision to record the songs live gave the unbelievably talented cast the opportunity to incorporate the songs into their acting – they could modify the pace and tone of the songs as they saw fit, and it worked brilliantly.
Furthermore, Hooper was wise enough to recognize the tremendous talent in front of him, and he let the actors take control of the screen. The cast boasts many of the absolute greatest actors of our time – Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter – and each actor makes the most of his/her screen time.
The sheer number of legendary actors in the film encouraged every cast member to work to his/her full potential, yet there were still a few standouts in a film that featured some of the greatest acting in years. As expected, Hugh Jackman brilliantly carried the film – Jackman has already has a Tony and two Golden Globe nominations to his name, so it came as no surprise that he had the versatility for his role as the leading Jean Valjean. However, screen time didn’t seem to factor in with the other standout star of the movie, Anne Hathaway, who made the most of her short time on screen and delivered a moving, emotional performance that is sure to earn her a number of awards and nominations.
For those who are unfamiliar with the production, or the plot of the film, (don’t worry, no spoilers) “Les Miserables” takes place in the tumultuous era of nineteenth century France. The work centers around Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family and attempting to escape his hellish imprisonment.
Under the unforgiving eye of the duty-driven lawman, Javert (Russell Crowe), Jean Valjean is forced to work endlessly until he is finally granted parole and thrown out into the streets and left to find his own way as a beggar and exile. He is taken in by a kind bishop, played by the veteran “Les Miserables” actor Colm Wilkinson, and he is given the opportunity to redeem himself.
Cognizant of the unlikely and remarkable opportunity before him, Jean Valjean violates his parole reinvents himself as a successful businessman living under an alias. However, fate brings Valjean and Javert head to head, and Javert begins to suspect that the businessman is indeed Valjean. Fate intervenes once again when Jean crosses paths with Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young woman thrown into poverty and forced into prostitution to send money to her daughter, Cosette, who is being housed by a couple of heartless thieves Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter). Upon meeting the miserable and struggling Fantine, Valjean recognizes an innocent soul he has wronged, and pledges to save the woman’s daughter – a decision which ultimately shows Javert that he is indeed Valjean. A lawman to the end, Javert embarks on a crusade to punish Valjean for violating the terms of his life-long parole.
The tale swiftly blossoms into a sweeping epic of love, morality, politics, and justice as Jean Valjean struggles to raise the innocent Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) as his own, until she falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young revolutionary, who is also victimized by Valjean – thereby entwining the fates of within the context of the political upheaval in the streets of France.
Hooper recognizes the complexities of the plots and understands the importance of not only the characters development, but also the evolution of the many motifs. He works tirelessly to ensure that “Les Miserables” is fittingly epic and gorgeous, thereby maintaining the work’s artistic integrity. The production design and costumes of the film, as evidenced by the posters and trailers of the film, are impeccable, and many familiar set pieces from the award-winning stage play are brought to life as never before. Certain sequences are completely and utterly perfect, and make the work come to life in an unprecedented and unthinkably stunning fashion.
Hooper’s complete mastery of cinematography and design coupled with the live singing make the musical experience an immersive and tangible experience that seemed only possible on the stage, while the depictions of complicated events are depicted in a way only possible through film.
Furthermore, to better accompany the various unique elements of the film, Hooper often chooses to frame his spectacular singers through close-up shots, allowing them to convey the powerful emotions of the songs not only through their voices, but also through their facial features and emotions.
Moreover, as previously mentioned, the cast is astonishing, mixing big-name stars with stage performers to create a new version of the work that brilliantly blends together the beloved elements of both the stage and screen adaptations of the work. Jackman gives one the best acting performance of his career as Jean Valjean, Eddie Redmayne (“My Week With Marilyn”) gives a breakout performance as Marius, which will most certainly lead to more roles for him, while Carter and Cohen exaggerate their typically eccentric comedic quirks as the humorous and scene-stealing Thénardiers. Coming fresh off her brilliant role as Selina Kyle in the sensational “Dark Knight Rises,” Hathaway concludes the greatest year of her career with her versatile and breathtaking performance as Fantine while Crowe and Seyfried keep the film grounded with slightly more stable and mundane roles.
Despite the films’ spectacular elements, it clocks in at nearly three hours in runtime, and nearly every line of dialog is song – so the film is certainly not meant for those who aren’t particularly fond of musicals. Moreover, due to the fact that the majority of the dialog is sung, viewers can’t tune out the songs as they usually can in musicals – attentive listening is required throughout the lengthy film. Additionally, the film follows the standard progression of the work, which is certainly atypical for film – it results in an occasionally jostling and disorienting progression, which breaks away from the standard rules of filmmaking in a way that may not appeal some viewers.
Overall, however, the film is magnificent, not only in scale, but also in substance. Hooper has proven once again that he is capable of creating a brilliantly artistic film, and the legendary cast members have worked up to their full potential. For film and musical lovers alike, this is a film that simply cannot be missed, and it is certainly a piece of cinema that will remain in the minds’ of viewers of years to come.