Let me start by warning you that Les Misérables is one of my favourite musicals of all time — in fact, perhaps my favourite musical, period. Thus, my perception of Director Tom Hooper’s film adaptation is viewed through the tinted glasses of a die-hard fan:
Adapting the stage show based on the lengthy novel by Victor Hugo is no easy feat, and while this film is not perfect, Hooper has captured the original show’s immense impact and its powerful themes of sacrifice, redemption, love and compassion. From the sweeping shots of a decrepit 19th century Paris to the intimate close-ups on a tragic prostitute reflecting on her life, Hooper shows a true understanding of what makes this musical so powerful: one minute it fills you with revolutionary fervour, and the next, with tears. Les Mis needed a gutsy filmmaker to bring the musical from stage to screen, and Hooper’s brave choices – including the daring decision to have his performers sing live on set – really pay off. The live singing, a novel technique, allows each vocal performance to resonate much more deeply. These raw vocal performances combined with Tom Hooper’s often critiqued extreme closeups truly allows you to connect with each character.
Hugh Jackman is an absolute wonder as the convict Jean Valjean. He truly is the heart and soul of the film and delivers a masterful and Oscar-worthy performance. Jackman will definitely be giving Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln a run for his money. Anne Hathaway’s role as the factory worker turned prostitute Fantine is very small but her performance is absolutely mighty, and is sure to garner her an Oscar nomination (and a likely win). Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is a total showstopper – she brutally slays the song with immense force and pain and made this die-hard fan feel like I was experiencing the song for the first time. Russell Crowe is surprisingly sympathetic as Javert, the relentless policeman chasing Valjean across the years. At first Crowe seems slightly out of place in the company of powerful performers such as Jackman, Hathaway, and Aaron Tveit (who delivers a very strong performance as the revolutionary Enjorlas). However, while Crowe lacks the vocal power of the Javerts of the West End and Broadway, his voice has a calculated control to it which I believe actually suits Javert’s dutiful nature and desire for order. Eddie Redmayne, as Marius, a young student torn between newfound love and his revolutionary cause, is surprisingly talented. While many have been aware of this Cambridge-educated actor’s strong acting chops for the past few years, Redmayne’s vocal performance cements him as a breakthrough star. Redmayne’s solo, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is heartbreaking. Samantha Barks is a revelation as Eponine. Her part seemed smaller than I remembered it from the show, which was a shame because Barks is incredibly powerful and relatable. Amanda Seyfried’s soprano voice is light and pretty, yet her performance as Cosette is the weakest of the cast (however she isn’t helped by her underdeveloped character who tends to be problematic in the stage musical as well). Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter succeed in providing much needed comic relief, although Bonham Carter’s Madame Thenardier seems to have stepped off of a Tim Burton set. And while Baron Cohen’s skill for crafting quirky characters is well used, his accent flip-flops between a strange French and Cockney brogue, and is very distracting.
As you can probably tell, the cast’s performances are the film’s strongest assets. Ultimately Les Misérables, running just under 2 hours and 40 minutes, is quite lengthy. For those who do not know the show or novel’s plot, this film adaptation can be quite an exhausting experience. The film is bombastic and unrelenting, and could have occasionally been more subtle with its themes and imagery here and there (we get it, Valjean is a Christ-like figure!). The editing is at times sloppy and jarring. However, the courageous and talented performances given by the film’s terrific cast outweigh these directorial imperfections.
P.S. Look out for a brief yet terrific performance by Colm “The Voice of God” Wilkinson as the Bishop. Wilkinson originated the role of Valjean on both Broadway and the West End.