Global stage phenomenon Les Misérables comes to the silver screen courtesy of Oscar winning director Tom Hooper (Kings Speech).
Based on the rousing Victor Hugo novel set at the time of the French revolution, a story of redemption, vengeance, love and added singing, lots of singing.
I will provide a definite warning, the cast sing ALL the way through, there are only two spoken lines. I repeat, they sing ALL the way through, if you cannot deal with that, then this is not the movie for you, there will be no more warnings.
John Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is first seen hauling a Galleon into dry dock, along with hundreds of other convicts being lashed with waves. Incarcerated for years for only stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s hungry child. Looking down upon him in every sense, is his nemesis Javert (Russell Crowe), a man who if sliced in two, would have “duty” written through him like a stick of seaside rock candy.
Eventually paroled, Valjean is persecuted and moves from place to place. Driven to a further crime, he is saved, finds religion and becomes a respectable well loved businessman, hiding his secret past. Following an unintended tragedy, for which he was only partially to blame, he finds redemption by caring for a young child.
The story then becomes embroiled with not only first stirrings of the French revolution but also his charge Cosette (Amanda Seyfield), who falls in love with a young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne).
Meanwhile Javert, clearly a man you would not cheat against at Scrabble, pursues his long lost adversary, obsessed with ensuring “justice” is done.
The film requires a lot of the cast, Hooper deciding to portray a very real, down and dirty Paris. The unfortunate poor are made to look just that, unfortunate and very poor. Sores, hideous teeth and a stylised down and out feel, into which our doomed heroine must fall. Fantine, Cosette’s mother (Anne Hathaway), is cast into the abyss never to return.
Hathaway is simply stunning in this role, shorn of her locks and subjected to her fate, she belts out “I Dreamed a dream” in a way no one could have envisaged. Red raw and racked with emotion it is almost uncomfortable to watch, a stunning performance.
Hugh Jackman acquits himself well, we know he can hold a tune and dance, Seyfield has a beautiful voice and gets to look lovestruck at appropriate moments. The other stand-out is Eddie Redmayne, who not only provides a solid acting performance but throws in a voice that most did not know he possessed. Impressive stuff indeed and his star status is sure to climb after this film.
Russell Crowe, clearly not a natural born singer is like a man thrown into a swimming pool who cannot swim. The fact that he manages to get to the other side, makes his effort and bravery that much more laudable. His acting however is as solid and believable as ever, enabling a rather daft role to seem at least vaguely plausible.
Sacha Cohen Baron somewhat surprisingly, yet again proves that he can act, providing dramatic comic relief with Helena Bonham Carter, with her usual mad hair in, or rather out of place.
Downsides, the film is long and if you are not keen on musicals, like this reviewer, this film will most definitely not change your mind. The emotion is raw and tears flow freely, certainly the cast given free reign to emote on an industrial scale.
Whilst undeniably the set piece songs provide a crescendo of emotion, when the scene finishes the movie feels flat until the next head of steam is built up for the next rousing song. A tune that you may be humming to yourself a week later, despite your best intention not to do so. On occasion the enterprise feels like a high school musical on steroids, with minor characters straight from central casting but clearly the cast are having fun, belting out well known tunes, clothed in superb costumes on big budget sets and locations.
Not being a musical fan, one wonders why all the lines need to be sung, some songs seem like filler but perhaps this is missing the whole point of a musical. The film is immeasurably better than the stage play, as the story is explained better and provides better context to the numerous songs. There is no question that without the talented “A list” cast, the film would have floundered.
Incidentally, all singing was captured live with microphones sewn into the actors costumes, which then picks up all the ambient sounds. A novel and unusual approach that is sure to be copied, rather than the usual miming to a soundtrack recorded in the studio.
Rousing stuff, with some excellent performances, a risky project that could have left the “A list” cast list high and dry, but has paid off handsomely due mainly to the talent on display.
If you enjoy musicals, there is much to enjoy here. For those with even a mild case of “musicalaphobia” be aware that this may not be for you.