Not unfamiliar to Oscar nominations (and wins), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) directs Les Misérables, undoubtedly the most anticipated film this award season. With London’s longest-running musical and several film adaptations coming before it, Hooper’s version had big boots to fill.
Everyone knows the story, so what can he bring to the table that remains undone? Well, it turns out the perfect ingredients were a jam packed star-studded Hollywood cast, epic sets and just a little bit of not taking itself too seriously.
The film follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman); a convicted man released under parole after nineteen years imprisonment for stealing some bread and then attempting to escape, with the promise that he report his whereabouts at regular intervals throughout his life, to the order of prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). When he breaks his parole to reinvent himself, Valjean becomes Javert’s number one priority and vows he will not stop until he finds him once more.
Javert, a man literally walking on the edge of good and bad, crippled by his dedication to the law was the only character that didn’t seem as well polished as the others. Whether it was Russell Crowe’s slightly confused performance or whether that was just the character’s inner turmoil is unclear. But, that is the movie’s only slight fault.
Despite him being the obvious lead, Valjean’s is not the only story being told here. Eight years on, when paths collide, we meet Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a factory girl with an illegitimate child to pay for.
Slung out on the streets of Montreuil-sur-Mer after being sacked, Valjean rescues her from a dockyard brothel and promises to care for her young daughter, Cosette. Valjean takes Cosette away from Thénardier and his wife, two shifty owners of the local inn, and runs once again from Javert who, as always, is hot on his tail.
Fast-forward nine years, the French Revolution is beginning and leading the rebels is Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a wealthy young-man fitting for the poor. When Marius catches glimpses of Cosette, now a young woman, he instantly falls for her, and his feelings are certainly reciprocated. From then on, the film becomes about so many things: war, freedom, love and the meaning of family, spirit and responsibility.
When you’re not crying, you’ll either be gushing over young Cosette and Marius’ love or you’ll be giggling. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter are perfect as the pick-pocketing innkeepers who add some much needed comic relief from the elsewhere dark and serious storyline.
The sets are epic, but not unbelievable. Almost as if they wanted to show the story was rooted from a play. It remains theatrical.
What is probably the most surprising thing about the film is that all the actors do an almost faultless job of singing. They’re not West End professionals with years of training, so it would be wrong to expect that they would hit every high note, but there isn’t a bum note to pick up on.
Hugh Jackman gives a stage-worthy performance and Hathaway’s raw rendition of the song that Susan Boyle killed, “I Dreamed A Dream”, proves why she snapped up an Oscar nomination despite her part being relatively short-lived.
A downside, so easily slipped into when adorned with raggedy clothes and a dirty wig, especially for less experienced actors is to turn the piece into something reminiscent of Oliver, which unfortunately is done so often by unknown Daniel Huttlestone playing young urchin, Gavroche. Perhaps the boy got confused when he saw Mrs. Lovett in the corner!
It’s obviously tear-jerking (its title does literally translate into “The Depressed”) but what is special about Hooper’s adaptation is that there is a constant glimmer of hope throughout, with a chuckle here and there, and the ending is beautifully uplifting and cinematic. Not one to miss this January, you’ll be miserable if you do. C’est fantastique!