Tom Hooper, the director who brought you the Oscar-winning King’s Speech, is the guy who dared to take the long reigning stage play and throw it at the big screen. The result is the visually stunning Les Misérables. You are either going to find it a musical marvel or your idea of a nightmare. It’s not for everyone, but those of you who like going to the theatre are going to love this.
Well, it certainly lives up to it’s name. It is one of the most miserable story lines ever, set in nineteenth century France, but that doesn’t make it boring. It’s compelling, despairing and heart wrenching in places. The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man living in post-revolution France convicted for stealing bread to save his sister’s son, who chooses to break his parole and begin a new life, walking the path of God. However, he is forever pursued by the law in the form of Javert (Russell Crowe), meaning Valjean is never safe. Preoccupied with his own fate, he inadvertently causes the life of an employee to take a turn for the worse; much worse. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who works solely to provide for her young daughter, Corsette (Isabelle Allen), is forced into a life of desperation and destitution. Her tale is so sad and distressing you just want to help her, but you can’t, so you end up feeling, well, miserable. The apex of the plot coincides with the uprising of rebels against the re-instalment of the monarchy.
It’s visually brilliant: it’s so dirty and filthy you can almost smell it – the whiff of poverty and desperation. It has a real feel to it, it’s believable. I wouldn’t say it is a passionate film, and it is long (a total of 158 minutes long), but you can feel the film persisting, heaving, despite the odds – just like Valjean. It’s not weak by any means, it just feels like, similar to it’s protagonist, it is battling against oppression, and winning.
The cast is fantastic. Obvious names feature in the film, like Amanda Seyfried, who plays the older Cosette, who first demonstrated her beautiful voice in Mamma Mia, and Hugh Jackman who previously played Elvis-sound-alike Memphis in Happy Feet. But Anne Hathaway has a surprisingly good voice and Russell Crowe is far from lacking in confidence. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are just fantastic at playing the disgusting M. and Mme. Thénardier. They’re thieving, they’re grotty, they’re vile human beings – you resent them so much, but you also can’t wait for them to appear on the screen. The ridiculously famous cast is juxtaposed with the unknown – Samantha Barks who plays Éponine being one of them – making the film real, authentic. Hooper had the cast perform live on set, with a piano soundtrack playing in earpieces, with the orchestra added later during production. This makes the performances raw and true, like the characters. For example, Crowe isn’t an amazing singer, but he’s unselfconscious and engaging.
It is long. There are moments where ten minutes of song here and there could have been cut – don’t get me wrong, I think it works brilliantly on stage, but for the sake of cinematic satisfaction I kind of found myself switching off a little bit. However, every time I found myself drifting, it would pull itself back spectacularly with a fantastically heart wrenching scene. It certainly doesn’t spare the audience’s feelings, and death is uncommon, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling attached to every character you meet. This sung-through musical features some classics, such as SuBo’s “I Dreamed a Dream”, and the terribly sad “On My Own”, but other than that here isn’t much you can sing-along to – then again I’m not a hard-core Les Mis fan. Having said that, after watching this film, I may well become one. Viva la France! 4/5
Les Misérables is released in the UK 11th January 2013.