Les Misérables: Reviewed
Starring – Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen.
I seriously doubt that there are many people out there who do not know the story of Les Misérables, thanks to the worldwide success of the stage musical. But here’s the lowdown anyway.
The show is based on the Victor Hugo novel published in 1862. Set in 19th century France, prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman) breaks parole and is ruthlessly hunted by police inspector Javert (Crowe). Valjean takes refuge in a church and in a moment of weakness he steals the silverware but then has a life changing experience following an act of kindness bestowed upon him by the Bishop (played by Colm Wilkinson who played the original Jean Valjean in the London stage musical). Many years later Valjean is now a Mayor and a man of good standing. He has an encounter with one of his factory workers Fantine (Hathaway), a pitiful and ill-fated young woman and he vows to take care of her daughter Cosette.
When the musical opened at the Barbican in 1985 the initial reviews were less that kind. The critics gave it the nickname of ‘The Glums’ but the ever dependable general public loved it. Since then the show has been see by over 60 million people.
The new movie version of Les Misérables has been directed by Tom Hooper who won best film Oscar for ‘The Kings Speech’. Hooper is a man who knows his audience and in this film he certainly delivers the goods. No doubt he has already polished his mantle piece and made space for another string of awards. The casting of the two main adversaries Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and fellow Antipodean Russell Crowe as the haunted Javert was a brilliant move. Both actors have terrific stage presence and their characters are well matched in strength and angst. Jackman gives a commanding performance and carries his story well from start to finish. Hooper was confident of Jackman’s ability as he has a background of musical performance and Cameron Mackintosh had already cast him as the lead in Oklahoma in 1998. Russell Crowe was quite a surprise and actually manages to get away with the singing. Although Javert has an unhealthy obsession in hunting down Valjean (after all his main crime was only stealing a loaf of bread not mass murder) and comes across as the villain of the piece, he also evokes sympathy from the audience and earns his musical stripes with the solo ‘Stars’.
However, one of the films most outstanding numbers in terms of acting and shear emotion comes from Anne Hathaway’s Fantine with her rendition of ‘I Dreamed to Dream’ there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Who knew Cat Woman could sing? Hathaway could be another Oscar winning wannabe and she’s only on screen for no more than fifteen minutes.
The second half of the film throws together a pair of ‘love at first sight’ lovers, the political idealist Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the now grown up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Redmayne is another revelation showing off his singing prowess especially in the moving ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ scene. Amanda Seyfried makes the best of the role of Cosette, a character that doesn’t really give an actress much to get their teeth into; unlike the inn-keepers daughter Éponine who hides a secret love for Marius but sadly he only sees her as a good friend (idiot!). Éponine is played by Samantha Barks who will be remembered for coming third place in the BBC talent show ‘I’d Do Anything’. She also played the part of Éponine in the London stage musical but this is her film debut and she is superb. As she was singing the touching ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ I couldn’t hear the end of it because the person sitting next to me was blubbing so much. So was his girlfriend.
Just in case you think the film is all doom and gloom there are a few action scenes to marvel at. Particularly with the Barricades section which is also quite graphic. But more so, it’s worth the ticket fee just to see the hilarious double act of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Inn Keepers Monsieur and Madame Thénardier. They certainly provide welcome light relief from all the woe, hardship and suffering from the rest of the cast.
I think the key to the success of this film is Tom Hooper’s inspired choice to film 90% of the singing live on set rather than dubbing the songs over back in the study as normal practice.
This actually gives a ‘live show’ performance quality and you feel the urge to applaud after each number. In fact I can’t remember the last time I was in the cinema and the whole audience clapped at the end. I was surprised that they didn’t give a standing ovation as well.
An epic movie if ever there was one. I think most of the country must have gone to see the opening night on January 11th as facebook lit up with positive comments just after 11pm. How very 21st century.
One word of warning. Probably best to see this film on the weekend because I guarantee you will go to bed with half the songs playing in your head all night.
For me it was ‘One Day More’.and ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’...dammit!
Five out of Five stars.
In cinemas now.