Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Les Misérables is a novel by Victor Hugo that has since been adapted into a hit musical and now a Hollywood film directed by Tom Hooper. It is the story of a revolution against the tyranny of an oppressive government, but also of a smaller but no less important uprising against a view of justice that leaves no room for mercy. The first character to whom we are introduced is Jean Valjean, a prisoner who has served nineteen years for stealing bread and escapes parole, making him a fugitive from the relentless and unforgiving Javert. Some years later, a young woman named Fantine is forced by circumstances to live and work on the streets of Paris, and Valjean finds redemption in fulfilling his promise to look after her daughter, Cosette. Later still, we see the events that lead to the July Revolution of 1832.
The ensemble cast acquitted themselves admirably, and I have little doubt that several of them will be receiving award nominations in the coming months. The ménage-a-trois between starry-eyed young lovers Marius and Cosette and the eternally overlooked Éponine was played out extremely well by Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks, who together produced some lovely musical harmonies as well as some touchingly emotional scenes. Barks’ Éponine in particular (a character she reprises after appearing in a theatrical run in the West End as well as the 25th Anniversary Concert in 2010) cuts a tragic figure as she walks the streets alone in the rain, and Marius’ inner conflict between his love for Cosette and his commitment to the coming revolution was equally well played by Eddie Redmayne.
In terms of vocal talent, however, I was most impressed by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman as Fantine and Jean Valjean; Hathaway’s version of I Dreamed a Dream was incredibly moving, while Jackman was perhaps the biggest surprise of the film as he delivered a consistently brilliant performance. In order to stay true to the musical as it is performed on stage, the dialogue is sung throughout, but the music is so well-integrated into the plot that even for such a lengthy film it proved to be an enhancement rather than a distraction. The singing is even more impressive when you consider that it was all recorded live on set and not in a studio – much like in a stage production, the actors had to act and sing simultaneously, which meant that the film was able to retain a sense of authenticity while also taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the change of medium to capture the large scope of Hugo’s novel.
All in all, this is a visually stunning and vocally superb reinvention of a tale that offers plenty of misery (as its title suggests) but also a great deal of hope.