If you are predisposed not to like musicals going into one, chances are you won’t like it. Just like foreign films, movies with sub-titles or the work of an actor or director that you loathe, you should enter into each film with an open heart and an open mind, hoping to surprised even if perhaps your gut is trying to save yourself from a letdown. But if you can do that, then you probably will love the newest film version of the classic tale, Les Miserables.
If you already fancy yourself a huge fan of the play, novel, or past incarnations of Les Mis, rest assured that this is the best version to date. For those already sold, this movie will knock your socks off and leave your heart aching all at once.
Tom Hooper, The Academy Award winning director of The King’s Speech, creates a stunning masterpiece by assembling costumes, cinematography and visual effects to go along with stellar acting performances. Letting the actors sing live on set (as opposed to many musicals, where their vocals are dubbed in later), he keeps the strengths of the play intact by showing us these authentic performances up close and personal. Many stage plays suffer when brought to the big screen as they are hard to translate into interesting cinema. With Les Mis, its as if the story and its characters have finally found their proper medium.
Of course, Les Miserables dates back well before the musical stage incarnation gained popularity in the 80s. It was originally a novel by French poet and playwright Victor Hugo, who also authored Notre-Dame de Paris (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame).
Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread out of necessity to feed his family. Upon breaking parole, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) makes it his life-mission to hunt Jean Valjean down.
I saw this film without even an inkling of knowledge about the play, book, or story. I don’t plan to ruin the plot points for those, like myself, who have heard all about Les Miserables but have never actually seen the play.
But there is much crammed into this tale that stretches over two-and-a-half hours on film, completely set to music and song. It was one of the shortest 157 minute films I’ve ever seen, if you get my meaning. From the start, I was sucked into the tale and wasn’t released until the very end.
OK, that’s not entirely true. The film begins with Russell Crowe singing and that singular moment came as a bit of a shock. He is the weakest of the vocal performers in the film, but his voice fits his grizzled character. From that point on though, it was one amazement followed by another.
Giving the best performance of this year (and of her career), Anne Hathaway absolutely nails it as Fantine, the mother of an illegitimate child forced into a life of prostitution. Her scene alone makes the film worth seeing and her performance singing the classic, “I Dreamed a Dream,” is nothing short of breath-taking.
But her performance isn’t the only one of note. Hugh Jackman deserves high praise, leaving every emotion on his face for the camera to reveal. Newcomer Samantha Barks, as Eponine, is equally brilliant and was on my short-list of breakout stars for 2012.
It’s a romance, but on an epic scale. It somehow manages to effectively weave everything into a flowing movie that rarely drags. So many characters come in and out of the story, yet all of them seem to get just the proper amount of use. Once again, I defer to the talents of director Tom Hooper for making it all seem so…seamless.
If I myself seem to be gushing a bit, that’s because I really had nothing but good things to say leaving my screening. Is it a musical? Yes. Is it a long movie? Yes. But if either of those facts deter you from seeing Les Mis, it’s your loss.
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Run Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United, The King’s Speech)
Opens locally on Tuesday, Dec 25, 2012 (check for show times).
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