Les Misérables (2012)

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Ah, another Broadway musical re-imagined for the cinema. After the lacklustre Rock of Ages in June, it was only time before a grand and beloved musical gets the cinematic treatment. Now, after almost twenty years since its initial development (and disregarding the 1998 non-singing adaptation starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman and Claire Danes), Les Misérables – the musical – finally hits the big screen.

Les Misérables is the five-volume 19th Century novel written by French author Victor Hugo. Convicted thief Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) breaks his parole soon after his release and goes on the run. With Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) on his tail, he reforms his life to become an up-standing citizen and takes in the young daughter of tragic Fantine (Hathaway), before getting involved in a revolutionary time in France.

For such a beloved musical, there was a delicate issue of timing, grandness and more importantly, fan anticipation to deal with. It was not until Tom Hooper won the Best Director Academy Award in 2010 for The King’s Speech and the 25th Anniversary of the West End production that the project was revived. Hooper relies on the dramatics relevant to such a high-profile gig, taking in vast landscapes and swooping camera angles, but in doing so, seems to create a dizzy-inducing headache that you tend to get from one too many rollercoasters. It just seems to have an aim to bring about a much bigger world for something that is essentially much smaller and intimate, thus upsetting the balance of its reworking.

Gladiator writer William Nicholson, however, has done wonders in conveying the dialogue from stage to screen – effectively opening up the Les Mis for younger audiences or those who have yet to see the stage musical. The star-studded performances of the film’s varied cast are the key here in bringing together the raw emotion of Nicholson’s dialogue and Hooper’s vision. Getting the cast to sing on-set is quite brilliant, as the rawness and emotion probably wouldn’t be as effective through playback.

The two male leads represent the backbone of the story; Jackman’s morally conflicted Valjean – a coward in places but essentially a man open to reform – and Crowe’s determined Jalvert, who doesn’t stray away from his line of duty.
Their vocals are quite gruff and unrefined (even more so in Crowe’s case; reaffirming that he is more of an actor than a singer), but it is easy to say that Anne Hathaway and I Do Anything‘s Samantha Barks outshine everyone as tragic heroines Fantine and Éponine respectively. Listening to them warble their way through their signature pieces, I Dreamed a Dream (Susan who?) and On My Own, it is hard not to leap to your feet and applaud wildly…or control your tears.

The supporting roles, ranging from Amanda Seyfried’s innocent Cosette, Eddie Redmayne’s Marius and the raucous yet incredibly watchable Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as petty pickpockets the Thénardiers, fill in the blanks leaving the core cast members to carry the story through to its emotionally-packed and soaring finale.

Epic in every sense of the word though occasionally unpolished as an uncut diamond, Les Misérables stirs the heart and soul of every musical fan.

Les Misérables hits cinemas 11th January 2013.

Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne
Runtime: 157 min
Country: UK

Film Rating: ★★★★½

2 Comments
  1. Chris Knipp says

    But not every musical fan loves this musical or this kind of musical. I think what you can securely say is that every big fan of “Les Miz” the musical will like, or simply accept, Tom Hooper’s version. I think a musical should have good singing in it, and the acting be damned. The virtues of the “unpolished” (live-recorded using actors rather than singers) are highly debatable. I think you have to take a look at the camerawork – the zooming in and out. I liked a couple of the actor-singers, notably Samantha Barts and Eddie Redmayne. My review may appear here.

  2. Katie Smith-Wong says

    The zooming-in and out was excessive to say the least, but it doesn’t dampen certain qualities that make ‘Les Mis’ spectacular. I agree with your point on the singing over acting abilities of the cast; the singing needs to stand out more and even though some of the cast has a musical-related background, there will be viewers who will watch this and may think that they are not as good as other characters.

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