Starring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe Anne Hathaway
Directed by Tom Hooper
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean is paroled but continuously shadowed by Inspector Javert for a minor crime which saw him imprisoned for 19 years. When he takes the responsibility for factory worker Fantine’s daughter on his path to redemption, their lives are changed forever.
Hooper’s vision of the classic novel is by no means subtle. The opening scene, depicting hundreds of downtrodden convicts pulling an imposing ship into harbour, sets the precedent for the film. Les Miserables is an epic film and goes big in every sense: the performances, the emotion, the set design, the cinematography. Nevertheless this stirring musical maintains the brutality and the edge that laces Hugo’s original story and delves into the politics, French history, religion, justice, romantic and familial love with stunning flair and finesse.
The singing is handled with such ease, you treat it the same as you would dialogue after a while. The composition carries meaning that could never be achieved with dialogue alone. To ask why this Les Miserables film couldn’t have been done without singing would be like asking why poetry is not prose; it’s not meant to be. Some of the shots throughout the songs are very tight and claustrophobically close. You can see the exertion of singing live, it’s unflinching, almost uncomfortably intimate – but this just enhances what Victor Hugo intended, these people really are miserable and you shouldn’t turn away from it.
Hooper’s one-take/on-set singing brings a new level of meaning to the lyrics that are known and loved already, and it’s tremendously impressive. Anne Hathaway has spoken of how difficult it is to belt out these theatrical, operatic numbers while not contorting her face. But you can see the energy the actors are pouring into the performances and it is truly invigorating. This comes at the expense of some less polished moments but for the most part, the cast handle the massive songs with extraordinary skill.
Anne Hathaway’s Fantine is nothing short of remarkable, I Dreamed A Dream has definitely been reclaimed from Susan Boyle. This is not the pretty version; it is full of heart wrenching anger, sadness, hopelessness and resignation. Another pleasant revelation was the fact that, not only can Eddie Redmayne act outstandingly well, he has a startling pair of lungs on him. Marius’ rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is one of the most emotionally charged moments of the entire show.
Not all is so triumphant. Some of the outdoor shots of Paris seem curiously counterfeit which detracts from the full blown realism of the acting and indoor sets. At times Crow teeters into rock and roll notes, and the notoriously difficult Bring Him Home seems ever so slightly strained; but this is nit picking of the highest order.Les Miserables is one of the greatest stories ever told, Hooper and his cast do it more than justice. When the pivotal moments arrive, they step up to the challenge with resolute determination to do it proud. It’s full of heart, clout and the care of hundreds. Les Miserables packs a supreme punch; even the most die hard fan of the novel or stage show could not disagree with that.