For most audience members, “Les Misérables” will either be a hit or miss. It is certain that not every great film or novel has to be adapted into a stellar musical. Fortunately for this writer, “Les Misérables” proves itself to be the exception. “Les Mis” was and still is the world’s longest running musical. It has now been brought to the silver screen by director Thomas Hooper. His interpretation of Victor Hugo’s novel is just as sweeping and stirring as the original source material was back when it was first written in 1862.
Taking place between the years 1815 and 1832, “Les Mis” tells the story of Jean Valjean; along with those of other characters. “Les Misérables” is a story of absolution and redemption; of revolution and sacrifice. It is brought to life once again, by a phenomenal cast of rising actors and actresses. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter.
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, “Les Misérables” tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, of passion, sacrifice and redemption. It is a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
The novel form of Les Misérables contains many subplots, but the main story is of ex-convict, Jean Valjean, who becomes a force for good in the world, but cannot escape his dark past. The novel is divided into five volumes, with each volume being divided into books and subdivided into chapters. This culminates in three hundred sixty-five chapters and a grand total of 1900 pages. Les Misérables is considered one of the longest novels ever written. So as a film adaptation, it is safe to say that the movie is lengthy in its runtime. Even at 2 hours and 38 minutes, the film still feels cramped.
Hooper’s “Les Misérables” is largely faithful to its Broadway stage counterpart. It is an extravagant melodrama. As the opening scene unfolds, it is clear how ambitious of a film “Les Misérables” will be. Hooper has taken a very large innovative step in his envisioning of this material, in that he has had his cast members sing their numbers live on film; rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks. It’s a genuine breakthrough. As such: the performers lift their voices, the camera holds them in intimate closeup, and the experience is about as close to live theater you’re likely to find on the silver screen.
Thomas Hooper’s decision to shoot the singing live, as opposed to having the singers lip-sync recorded songs yields benefits. This is especially the case with Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Huttlestone’s performances; most of which are scene-stealers when compared to Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. It is my hope that Anne’s performance here will garner her her first Oscar win. She deserves it. Now I’m surprised to say it, but Russell Crowe impressed me here. He can actually sing! I won’t say that he’ll be getting any Oscar nods this year, but he has earned even more of my respect. For exceeding my expectations and actually accepting the role. It’s not your usual day, to see Maximus from “Gladiator” singing upon the rooftops of Paris.
“Les Misérables” is an ambitious and impeccably mounted undertaking on the part of its Director and Cast members. It imparts upon us a grandiose story of redemption and love that leaves the heart warmed and the soul stirring. Committed fans of the musical are likely to have their affections reaffirmed, and for those unaffiliated; it is time to become so. “Les Misérables” succeeds thanks to bravura performances from its distinguished cast. It is the one of the best musicals I have ever seen and one of the few movie musicals you will ever see that matches (and in some cases surpasses) what you would experience on the stage. It is a story that has lasted the ages and will continue to do so.