Strangely, I somehow managed to get through the 80s and 90s without seeing or hearing Les Misérables. This was probably because I am not really that big a fan of musicals to begin with. But I will admit I was very intrigued to see the newest adaptation by Tom Hooper.
There were two main reasons for said intrigue: the excellent cast, and the fact that cast would actually be singing their songs live on camera as well; a film first. So I was coming into the film with both a fresh set of eyes and ears on not only the film, but the musical as well. For reference my wife (who is a big fan of the musical) accompanied me, to fill me in on all the differences afterword. In case I didn’t catch them myself, because they stood out like a sore thumb.
For those not familiar with the plot Les Misérables, is the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a Frenchman imprisoned for stealing bread, that has broken his parole and must flee from police Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). The pursuit consumes both men’s lives, and after two decades on the run, Valjean finds himself in the midst of the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris.
The first thing that really strikes you about the film is its power. The cinematography, sound design, acting and direction all hit you at once and provide an experience that I feel is more personal than seeing it onstage. You are right in the actor’s face as they are singing as the camera moves and captures the action around them. It culminates in some truly inspired musical numbers, that I felt really did the source material justice and transcended the theatrical experience.
The actors in this film had a tough bill to fill as well, because they not only had to pull off their scenes, but sing in real time as well. It is here the cast truly shines and gives us an experience that I hope will give most of these folks a nod come Oscar season, especially Anne Hathaway. If her performance doesn’t break your heart as Fantine, honestly nothing will.
The musical itself has been slightly slimmed down to achieve a more digestible running time, but one original song has also been inserted to assure a best song nod from the Academy. I can honestly say that it seemed a little out of place, but Hugh Jackman still killed it. The direction here is rock solid and if all musicals were done this well, we would probably see a resurgence in the genre.
I loved Les Misérables, it was an amazing accomplishment and what all film musicals should shoot for from here on out. While some actors were not the best singers, I believed they overcame this with the enormous heart put into their portrayal of these characters. The strongest asset I think this film has to offer however is its ability to transcend beyond its core audience and tell a story that is universal and will make even non-musical fans like myself believers.
Les Misérables gets a 5 out of 5 stars.