Les Misérables Review

les mis screenshot

Tom Hooper prepares another speech

Following the success of his Oscar-winning royal period drama The King’s Speech, British director Tom Hooper tackles an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s acclaimed Les Misérables. There have been many incarnations of the legendary 1862 French novel that date back to the birth of cinema, but Hooper is the first filmmaker to translate Alain Boublil’s and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s  musical stage play to the big screen.

Much like the musical and original novel, Hooper’s Les Misérables follows the story of burly French peasant Jean Valjean who seeks redemption following his nineteen-year imprisonment after he stole a piece of bread to feed his starving family. Several failed attempts at escaping kept him captive for longer than originally sentenced. Valjean finally breaks parole with hopes of starting a new life, but is relentlessly tracked down by a ruthless police inspector Javert. During the ensuing cat-and-mouse chase Valjean crosses paths with various different characters living within the revolutionary period in France.

Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe headline an ensemble cast with exceptional performances in their respective roles as Jean Valjean and Javert. The way these two actors pair up is essential to the film as their binary opposition and constantly fluctuating power struggle is at the forefront of the narrative. From the moment it begins Jackman accommodates his role as Valjean, but Crowe struggles to match his ability; at least to begin with. For the stage play the iconic role of Javert is typically played by a strong male tenor who casts a powerful figure not only physically, but also vocally. Unfortunately, Crowe’s singing isn’t as strong as Jackman’s leaving their duets lacking in the opening scenes of the film. However, over the course of the film Crowe grows into his role magnificently and while he always maintained a physically powerful screen presence he finally expresses his vocal talents with an incredibly powerful solo late in the film.

While the two male leads perform well in their central roles, Anne Hathaway is the true star in her fleeting performance as Fantine. She captures her character’s harrowing descent into self-destruction with dedicated precision and makes the most of her screen time with a beautifully moving rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Hathaway manages to steal the show from a male-dominated cast in a way that so few actresses in a supporting role have ever done before.

The rest of the supporting cast are also on fine form. From the child actors making their debuts, Isabelle Allen is remarkable as young Cosette, to the experienced personalities returning to the acclaimed director, Hooper is able to mould exceptional performances from everyone in his film. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen reproduce similar traits from their previous roles in Tim Burton’s musical Sweeney Todd and provide a perfectly timed comical interlude that offers a necessary departure from the otherwise bleak narrative. The film moves with immaculate ease as the years pass by in this epic. As the characters grow older the young actors are replaced with others and Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks carry the form of their predecessors and provide performances as good as the last.

Not only does Tom Hooper transpose the music and lyrics from the stage play, but also offers a level of intimacy lacking from any theatre production. Hooper’s frequent use of close-ups allows audiences to see actor’s facial expressions and mannerism that would otherwise go missed in a stage play. On very few occasions does a film live up to the immense praise and expectations on it, but every bit of praise is correct. An awards season release could result in Tom Hooper becoming a director who wins the Academy Award for Best Picture with consecutive films, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for it to sweep the board.

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