Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Aaron Tveit
Usually, you find that people don't tend to like Les Misérables, the theatre sensation seen by over 60 million people across 42 countries... they unconditionally love it; an unthinkably tough undertaking then for Tom Hooper (looking for another King's Speech-sized hit) who has been potentially disastrously tasked with applying the Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer pinnacle of all musicals to cinemas. If that wasn’t pressure enough, Hooper has opted to shoot his subjects singing as the action transpires – in other words, live. Three cheers for none of that distracting miming! This does mean the film requires – due to this bold directorial decision (something of a revelation for a film this big) - actors who can actually hold notes.
The story, for those not included in the hefty stats mentioned above, tracks prisoner Jean Valjean, first seen lugging warships from the ocean alongside thousands of his fellows. Prison guard Javert releases him on parole, but Valjean skips town and 8 years later, is an established factory owner in the town he has become mayor of. But through an encounter with factory worker Fantine, struggling to fend for her illegitimate daughter Cosette, he happens upon a chance encounter with Javert, who swore 8 years previous to one day bring the escaped convict to justice. Fans know this is the tip of a very large and loud iceberg – bear in mind, the musical’s source material is Victor Hugo's five-volumed brick of a novel – but at its heart, Les Misérables is Valjean’s story, a moral man who fears his petty villainy of the past may threaten whatever happiness he aspires to reach. Hugh Jackman plays the man, showcasing this moral crisis through the emotion-layered vocals. A much-loved character in theatre, Jackman won't be to everybody's taste as Valjean, but what he adds to the role in this different medium amounts to breathtaking; a career best, even. He is backed up by a supporting cast of individuals who each grab their moment when it presents itself, Anne Hathaway the one on most people’s lips. Her Oscar-winning (c'mon, she's a dead cert!) portrayal of Fantine may be brief but it lingers throughout the film, her effect on Valjean's life echoed through the lingering lyrics of the hugely enjoyable, and bloody catchy, songs. Russell Crowe's performance should do enough to put a full stop to all the critical comments undeservedly hurled his way - as Javert, he seems humbled and contained; a welcome screen presence whenever he rides his horse into the frame. The remainder are all able: Amanda Seyfried (the film's weakest addition, as Cosette,) Eddie Redmayne (the singing student revolutionist, Marius,) and plucked from the stage in her first screen role, Samantha Barks (she doesn't so much become Éponine as use her to showcase a burdgeoning film career ahead of the actress.) Mention must go to the Thénadiers AKA Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen rollicking around amongst all the doom and gloom in their crazy garb. In what could have been a serious bout of scene-stealing, it's a disappointment that the flamboyant pair (especially the former) underplay it as much as they do.
At 158 minutes, it's no wonder that Les Misérables threatens to become a slog - but the fact it evades this ensures Tom Hooper's adaptation is the resounding success it deserves to be. The cast do all they can without going overboard, and the merging of the epic visuals and contrasting close-ups, filled with much more than your daily dose of falling tears, clenched jaws and warbling throats hits the right level of entertainment - theatre die-hard or hesitant boyfriend; plenty here for all to sit back and enjoy.
Once the climax rolls by, regardless of whether that lump has formed in your throat or not, you'll have to fight the irrepressible urge to stand and applaud the cinematic experience that has just been offered to you. You will hear the people sing, alright.
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