Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Daniel Huttlestone
Synopsis: The film adaptation of the musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel. Jean Valjean (Jackman) is a convict, having served 19 years incarceration after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. Unable to get ahead upon his release, he breaks parole to start a new life. This stars Javert (Crowe), a man of the law, on his trail for a story spanning many years. Though I have always been a fan of musicals, and have often been to the theatre and seen many of the greats, Les Mis is one that has remained a blind spot for me. So I went into this film with my only knowledge of the story being a non-musical miniseries that I watched about ten years ago and remember very little of. So those hoping for a stage to film comparison, I apologise, this will be a review from the eyes of the uninitiated.
It is very clear to me now why this musical has such a legendary status. It is an emotionally charged piece of historical fiction, with some immediately recognisable music. It is similar to Miss Saigon, in that there is very little dialogue outside of the actual songs. So all the really emotional moments are worked directly into the music, with the score and lyrics feeding each other in an incredible way.
This coupling of music and lyrics I feel is aided by the method with which Hooper decided to film this musical. Rather than the actors recording their singing parts in advance of filming the action, the actors sing live. Hence, they are better able to emote with the singing in whatever way they chose when in front of the camera. I feel that this makes the sons more powerful, particularly as they are coupled with some great performances at the same time.
Jackman of course has a long history in musicals and is a great Valjean, looking as comfortable playing the slave carrying heavy loads as her does the gentleman on the run. Crowe as always is a fantastic actor, though I have heard some complain about his singing. I feel this is a bit harsh, the guy can sing, and not having heard Javert’s songs before, my opinion is not coloured by how it should sound. I still enjoy listening to his performance on the soundtrack, which I purchased shortly after seeing the film. Seyfried is of course good, a veteran of Mamma Mia, though her character has little to do in comparison to the others. Redmayne at first to me seemed adequate, until one powerful piece he performs at the end of the film which is emotional charged and very effective. For me the true find in the cast though was Barks, who has the unrequited love role, and yet she plays it so heart-wrenchingly well. Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter make a delightful comedic duo, but that of course was never in doubt.
Those that thing I have forgotten Anne Hathaway in the above paragraph though, do not fear. I have saved her to last as I think her performance is the one that defines the entire film. Her Fantine is a virtuous woman who is brought to the absolute depths of low due to circumstance and her need to care for her child. “I Dreamed a Dream” is an iconic piece of music from this film, as evidenced by the fact that I had heard it often before despite never having seen the show. But Hathaway is incredible singing this, not only in terms of vocal quality, but in terms of performance. I will forgo any attempts to appear all masculine an unaffected by admitting that tears were flowing for me at this point. It is a performance that is truly Oscar worthy.
In the end I find it hard to fault this film. My only niggling complaint is length, as some scenes do seem to drag a little too long. I can forgive that though as I can see why certain choices were made to include elements dramatically. I think that this is a powerful slice of history very well told. I am keen now to go back and read Victor Hugo’s original text.
4 stars out of 5