SYNOPSIS: In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.
REVIEW: The acclaimed director of The King's Speech, Tom Hooper, sets his sights and talents on a Broadway institution in the long-running musical Les Misérables. Hooper hopes to succeed with a clever but difficult notion - have each actor and actress their song as the scene was being shot instead of creating the music on an album months before film production actually started. Will his idea result in a superior film?
In 1815, at the end of the French Revolution, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, Rise of the Guardians) finishes out twenty years as a slave prisoner under the French king. He toils in the shipyards under the yoke of the head of the prisons, Javert (Russell Crowe, The Man with the Iron Fists). Upon his release Jean Valjean travels the countryside looking for food, shelter, work, and his next parole meeting. Taken in by a kindly priest, Valjean promptly takes advantage of the clergy's sacrifice by stealing the parish's silver.
When Valjean is caught and brought before the priest, the man of the cloth takes pity on Valjean and let's him have the silver with the promise of a more blessed life. Years later, Valjean has lifted himself up to the status of a business man and giver to the downtrodden. His fear of Javert finding out his real identity causes him to dismiss a factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises) without just cause. Realizing his mistake comes with dire consequences, Valjean takes Fantine's daughter Cosette (played as a young adult by Amanda Seyfried, In Time) under his protection.
Years later, still unknowingly living a fugitive's life, Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne, My Week with Marilyn). The love-stricken Cosette must contend with a flight-ready Valjean, a young woman Éponine (Samantha Barks, Les Misérables) who is also in love with Marius, and a now highly regarded commander Javert who looks to crush this budding rebellion under his boot heel before it truly takes root.
Les Misérables, the musical, has run on Broadway for 27 years to over 60 million theater goers. It has been adapted to the small screen and the silver screen numerous times over the years. Jean Valjean has been played by Liam Neeson, Gerard Depardieu, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Richard Jordan. Big screen and Broadway draw Hugh Jackman now takes his turn as the Frenchman turned prisoner because of a stolen loaf of bread.
Director Tom Hooper regards this version of Les Misérables an achievement of silver screen musical adaptation because of the use of live singing during the production instead of having each actor and actress spend time in a studio months ahead of production to create an soundtrack album to be used for playback and lip-syncing during production.
Hugh Jackman is no stranger to live performance singing on Broadway with turns in musicals such as The Boy From Oz. Samantha Barks is the most adept since coming from the musical itself. Ann Hathaway's siren voice seems meek, but is powerful enough musically and visually to serve as the cornerstone song in the commercials and in the film.
Amanda Seyfried's songbird tweets come through surprisingly well and melodic. The aforementioned are the vocal highlights. Crowe, Redmayne, and Aaron Tveit's Enjolras (Premium Rush) are serviceable crooners. The innkeepers Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugo) and Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter, Dark Shadows) match their singing with enjoyable campy physical performances, hearkening back to spins in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd. The music is strong enough to carry the film, although some may argue that the stage production had better pipes.
Les Misérables is half big screen spectacle and half theatrical musing. The opening scene with Valjean working with hundreds of other slaves working to dock a wayward French warship blurs the lines with sensational CGI effects. When Fantine sinks to the Red Light district to sell a locket in order to pay a debt, the painted whores and scenery feels more intimate and more at home on a moody Broadway stage. Hooper works both ends of the visual media with equal ease, giving the uninitiated theatrical musical moviegoer enough big screen impact to make it worthwhile, while catering to the patrons of the Big White Way a musical stage experience to make them feel at home.
Things have changed. For lovers of the musical, some of the plotlines are different. Jean Valjean, for example, no longer escapes for his freedom after 20 years. He is instead given parole for his time served. Is this change to make Jackman's character more likable from the beginning? It seems a trivial adjustment in the scheme of things. For moviegoers, do not expect much in the way of actual dialogue. This is a musical at its purest. Every line of verse supplies the dialogues and monologues required to push the story along. The visuals are stunning at times, the music powerful enough to illicit emotion.
Les Misérables is a musical spectacle that will delight some, if not most, stage production fans. For the movie musical newbies, as long as you like and appreciate musicals you will enjoy Les Miserables. To quote another musical, if you give yourself over to "...the power of the music of the night...", you should be transported.
★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5 | Movie - DVD - Rental
Rated: PG-13 Suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Runtime: 2 hours 38 minutes
Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, from the Victor Hugo novel, Jean-Marc Natel (French text), James Fenton (additional text), William Nicholson
Cast: Hugh Jackson, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Cohen, Eddie Redmayne