Director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of ‘Les Miserables’ is a triumph of modern cinema. It is stunning, melodramatic, as well as over-the-top. It works brilliantly with the classic French tale. Hooper (The King’s Speech) has crafted an emotionally gratifying movie. No doubt, it will solidify his reputation as a filmmaker to be reckoned with in Hollywood. As a youth, I read the Victor Hugo novel. Hooper stays faithful to the original story. At the same time, he achieves a distinctive style throughout the course of the film. Everything from the vintage costumes, the period film sets, down to the stellar ensemble cast elevates it into an epic cinematic achievement.
If you haven’t read the novel, the story is easy to follow. Like the stage musical, the film is almost completely sung. There is sparse dialogue. When it is uttered by the cast, it takes on more meaning. Another similarity to the stage production is that the film narrows down the lengthy novel. It keeps the story tight and well-paced. What really makes this film work well is the powerful musical score by composer Claude-Michel Schonberg. Hooper decided to use a technique to record the actors singing on set and then adding the symphonic recording back at the studio. It proved a good move not to have the actors lip-sync. The emotional resonance it adds to the songs is powerful.
The story of ‘Les Miserable’ in a nutshell takes place during the 19th century. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) steals a loaf of bread and is relentlessly hunted for decades by a police officer, Javert (Russell Crowe). He believes once a thief always a thief and so he makes it his life mission to put Valjean back behind bars. After Valjean breaks his parole, he reinvents himself as a wealthy factory owner and mayor of a small town. He feels responsible for the fate of a fired factory worker turned prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway). He promises Fantine to care for her daughter, Cosette after he rescues her from a pair of abusive innkeepers (Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen). They provide a welcome amount of wry humor.
It is really the showstopping songs that make this film so impressive. There are quite a few memorable performances but none stand out as much as Anne Hathaway. When she sings “I Dreamed a Dream” it is heartbreaking. Hooper gives it a gritty feel as he fixes the camera on Hathaway’s tortured, gaunt face. Her hypnotic rendition alone will seal a Best Actress Oscar nod. Other notable performances come from Jackman as Valjean. His vocal range allows him to deliver gut-wrenching songs throughout the film. The subplot of the story allows other performers to shine too. Marius (Eddie Redmayne) plays a revolutionary who falls in love-at-first-sight with the doe eyed Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). There is a love triangle that involves Eponine (Samantha Barks). All three are splendid in their respective roles.
Although Crowe’s vocal range is not as strong as the others, he gives one of his best performances in recent memory. Hooper takes daring camera risks that for the most part pay off. What keeps this film engaging is the music and the magnetic performances from a talented ensemble cast. With so many big musical numbers, the film succeeds its mission. It is an uplifting and glorious achievement. ‘Les Miserables’ is now available on DVD and Blu-ray http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/.