Les Miserables

Les Miserables

In Theatres: 
Dec 25, 2012
Running Time: 
2 Hours, 38 Minutes

Hugh Jackman reportedly lost 30lbs and went 30 hours without liquids to accurately portray Jean Valjean.

I, myself, am completely unfamiliar with the source material of the broadway smash, Les Miserables. Never seen the musical, never saw the Liam Neeson unmusical movie adaptation, never even heard the music. So, needless to say, I walked into this screening with no expectations of what made this material such a phenomenon. Perhaps it's the introduction to the material altogether or just the presentation director Tom Hooper has put together for audiences this Christmas, but I fell hard for Les Miserables. 

Set in 19th-Century France, Les Miserables tells the story of hope, love and survival in an unforgiving world. Having just broken his parole, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), seeks out a way to change his identity from prisoner 24601 to anyone else. This proves tough as he must keep his identity a secret from everyone, especially Inspector Javert (A top notch Russell Crowe). During his cover as Mayor, Valjean finds himself responsible for the downfall of a poor worker, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), as she is fired from her job, making her unable to financially support her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Fantine turns to a life of desperation, selling anything she can to obtain money for her lovely Cosette. Once Valjean discovers what has been done, he vows to help both Fantine and Cosette however he can, even if that means blowing his cover and revealing himself as prisoner 24601 and continuing his run from Inspector Javert as he rescues Cosette from her dirty orphanage. It's from that time on that Valjean becomes more than a man with no identity but a man with purpose. Years later, Valjan and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) find themselves in the midst of the French Revolution and in the company of the full-hearted and liberty loving Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who soon catches the eye of Cosette. Valjean faces his toughest moment yet as he must protect Cosette from not just the revolution, but his own troubled past as Javert inches closer to finding the elusive prisoner 24601. 

Tom Hooper is the same man who received massive acclaim for his picture The King's Speech just two years ago. Watching Les Miserables, it's very clear that Hooper had his own vision for the epic musical and stayed very close to that eye. Some shots almost replicate ones from The King's Speech due to their wide eyed scope in a personal situation. It's a beautiful and interesting look for a well-known story. Hooper's eye for direction is bound to sell many audiences before Les Miserables wraps up. But it is not only his eye that helps Les Mis reach success. The cast for this film is massive in the smallest of ways. Hugh Jackman positively owns the role of Jean Valjean, channeling anger, desperation, love and sacrifice all in one performance. It is under Hooper's direction that Jackman does his best work and showcases his talent with ease, including his voice. Anne Hathaway is a somewhat minor yet deeply effective character in Les Miserables, but that doesn't stop her from taking every eye in the audience and planting them firmly on her. Her work on the "I Dreamed A Dream" segment will resonate in her work for years to come. Fantine is not an easy character to duplicate. Dark and uncomfortable situations plague her life as she attempts to be the mother that Cosette needs. Even the casting of minor roles like Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter) fit in perfectly with the rest of the cast. Then again, Hooper didn't take every risk seeing as he cast Samantha Barks as Eponine, the same character she portrayed in 2010 for the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables at 02 Arena in London. Speaking of risks...

Walking in, I had no clue what to expect out of Russell Crowe's performance. He seems out of place as he isn't known for the showcase of his singing voice. Who could have guessed he doubles as a rockstar? Crowe is the biggest and best surprise out of Les Miserables in his performance as the persistent Javert. Roaring his lyrics in what almost doubles as a pur, Crowe takes command of the screen in the most spectacular way. It also helps that it's his best performance since Gladiator, not to mention the notoriety he'll receive once audiences experience the film. Simply put, Crowe's performance shouldn't be as enjoyable as it turns out to be and it's mostly thanks to one hell of a voice. 

Adapting musicals from stage to screen is never an easy task and is usually one that directors turn down at the risk of upsetting a fanbase. Hooper took a huge risk with Les Miserables and it's hard to think he did anything but boost the popularity and offer an alternative look at the same story. The selling point for the original fanbase is more than likely the unforgiving nature of the darker moments in the story. Hooper isn't afraid to dive headfirst into the world of prostitution and selling every bit of your life. It makes for uncomfortable moments, yet moments that accurately sell the intensity and emotion of these character's actions. 

The music for Les Miserables will blow many away. Yes, it's easy for myself to be blown away as I am unfamiliar with the original work, but each actor provided their own voice for the music, leading to an all new version of the songs many have come to love. Each actor has their moment to shine bright vocally and they reach an almost state of perfection with each one. Crowe's work on Javert's last song, Hathaway's "I Dreamed A Dream" (Bring tissues) and Jackman's "Valjean's Soliloquy" will bring the house down for each showing and remind audiences why musicals work so well in the first place. Just to keep things light and fun, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen's work on "Master of the House" is excellent and solid proof that Hooper doesn't just love watching audiences cry. 

If it seems as if I'm praising Les Miserables, it's because I kind of am. Tom Hooper proved himself a massive talent with The King's Speech and Les Miserables just furthers that idea while taking it to new levels. The cast, both vocally and in terms of acting, collectively give their best work, making Les Miserables one of the best films of the year and one of the best musicals that can be found on film. Watch out Oscars, Tom Hooper is back. Also, if Crowe is available, I'm currently holding auditions for the lead singer in my Metallica cover band. 

Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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