Based on the Original Stage Musical: Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables
Screenplay by William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Directed by Tom Hooper
The director of 2010’s multiple award winning “The King’s Speech”, Tom Hooper, is back with his latest Oscar baiting offering, an adaptation of the award winning and long running play based the Victor Hugo book “Les Misérables”. The production is a huge undertaking and has assembled a high profile cast under Hooper’s guiding hands to bring the tale to the screen. But is Hooper ready to helm a film that is well beyond the scope and scale anything he has ever done?
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story full of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption and stands as a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman), after breaking his parole, has managed to start a new successful life under the guise of Monsieur Madeleine, a small town mayor and factory owner. But all the while Valjean is being hunted, for decades, by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) who is determined to see Valjean back on the chain gang after breaking his parole. When Valjean agrees to care for former factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. Valjean raises Cosette (Seyfried) until she is a young woman, but as the french student revolutionaries poise themselves to make their first strike against the government led by Marius (Redmayne) and Enjolras (Tveit), Javert has picked up Valjean’s scent yet again.
Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables is very successful, but is not without its flaws. Not having seen a stage production of the play, the film is very long at 2 1/2 hours, but keeps a reasonable pace throughout. Audiences who do not like musicals should know that the combined amount of dialogue not sung in the film is probably half an hour of the runtime at the most. Some of the staging of the songs and placement of intro and outros do come off as awkward. The songs are quite good, the play has been around for decades because of its writing, and Hooper plays it mainly straight here without different interpretations. In fact many scenes are staged as they were on a stage instead of for film, with very mixed results.
The performances are just as varied here. Hugh Jackman is likely one of the few in Hollywood with the traditional chops to take on Jean Valjean, and he gives a solid performance in the role. Sadly his counterpoint is Crowe playing Javert and Crowe struggles mightily with the performance as many times the songs he is required to perform are well beyond his range. Anne Hathaway is phenomenal as the tragic Fantine. Her performance is strong, fragile and tragic all at the same time, and she delivers a brilliantly stirring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”. Matching her brilliance is Redmayne as Marius. This is a star making performance for Redmayne as his performance outshines all of the other males here. And in a supporting performance, Samantha Barks in the role of Éponine is simply divine.
Some of the films missteps, other than Crowe’s, come in supporting roles and overall staging. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the innkeepers are performances that start strong but become very distracting towards the end. One of the bigger set pieces of the film is the barricade set up by the revolutionaries after they ambush a public official’s funeral. The siege at the barricade is where Hooper’s limited experience in shooting action comes to light as the sequence becomes a mish-mash of quick cuts, screams and people barking orders. The sequence is poorly shot and seems out of place with the pacing and tone of the rest of the film. Where the final shot staged in front of the French parliament buildings works brilliantly being set as if on the stage, the barricade being built as a stage style prop, does not help the action sequence at all. But these missteps do not hinder the overall enjoyment of the film.
Some amazing performances and fantastic music make Les Misérables as extremely satisfying cinematic endeavour. The film will be relevant around awards season and hopefully the performances from Hathaway, Redmayne and Barks do not go unrewarded. For these noted performances alone Les Misérables is a strong recommend.
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