A film review by Craig J. Koban December 31, 2012
2012, PG-13, 158 mins.
2012, PG-13, 158 mins.
Valjean: Hugh Jackman / Javert: Russell Crowe / Fantine: Anne Hathaway / Marius: Eddie Redmayne / Cosette: Amanda Seyfried / Eponine: Samantha Barks / Thenardier: Sacha Baron Cohen / Mme. Thenardier: Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Tom Hooper / Written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Herbert Kretzmer, based on Boublil/Schoenberg’s musical “Les Miserables,” from the novel by Victor Hugo
Hugo’s 1862 French novel LES MISERABLES has been adapted in so many
countless and various forms over the years that I get crossed-eyed just
thinking about it. There have been, of course, numerous cinematic iterations of what
many consider one the greatest literary works of the 19th Century (the
most recent and memorable was arguably the Bille August directed and Liam
Neeson starring 1998 English language film), but it seems that the most
cherished is indeed the stage musical version which saw the light of day
in 1985. This new LES MISERABLE film venture – directed by Academy
Award winner Tom Hooper, who directed THE
KING’S SPEECH and the underrated THE
DAMNED UNITED – is appropriated from the Alain Boublil
and Claude Michel Schoenberg musical.
What has emerged is a searing, epically mounted, poignantly rendered, and impeccably performed movie musical.
some botched opportunities like NINE, dreadful efforts like
decidedly so-so ones like MAMMA MIA!, LES MISERABLES is a grand return to
the sprawling and sweeping type of operatic film musicals steeped in fiery
romanticism that’s held together not only by its awe-inspiring
production and period design, but also by the equally stunning vocal
performances that linger with viewers for what seems like an eternity. LES MISERABLES is
an unqualified feast for the senses and just may be the most handsomely
envisioned film – period or not – of 2012, but it also captures the
intense intimacy, agony and despair of its characters, which allows the
film to dramatically work on a pure emotional level.
Those whom are familiar with the stage musical will, no doubt,
drink in everything this film version offers with a ravenous thirst; all
others unfamiliar with the stage version will most likely find themselves
easily taken in by the whole enrapturing spirit of the enterprise.
film – much like the book that it and its stage musical antecedent drew
inspiration from – tells an expansive historical tale chronicling the
time between 1815 in France and the 1832 June
Revolution in Paris that involved a massive civic uprising against the
ruthless military. While
doing that, LES MISERABLES tells a deeply moving story of Jean Valjean
(Hugh Jackman), a man – as the film opens – that has just served a
19-year prison sentence for a fairly minor crime of theft (he stole bread
so he would not starve) and has now been paroled by Javert
(Russell Crowe). Despite the
fact that Valjean has been given his freedom, he nevertheless breaks his
parole, but then decides – via some divine intervention – to lead the
life of a good and honorable man to better himself and those
impoverished below him. Javert,
however, becomes obsessed with bringing him to justice.
years pass and Valjean – under a new identity – has become a fairly
prosperous and rich factory owner and mayor of the small town of
Montfermeil. A girl that
works there, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) has been discovered to be secretly sending
money to her illegitimate daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), whom lives
with the fairly vile Thenardiers (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena
Bonham Carter, a devilish pairing if there ever was one).
Fantine is routinely fired by her foreman and forces herself as a result
to turn to prostitution.
On one particularly dreadful night an incident occurs between her
and an unruly client that nearly leads to her arrest by Javert (now a
chief inspector), but Valjean chivalrously swoops in, saves Fantine, and
takes her to the hospital, where she later dies.
– based on his previous solemn oath to himself and God – decides to
adopt Fantine’s daughter and raise her as his own, but he must do so
while eluding Javert. Ten
more years pass and Valjean and the older Cossette (the wide–eyed
Amanda Seyfried) now reside in Paris, where she falls for a revolutionary
named Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who is also unconditionally loved by
Eponine (Samantha Barks). Matters grow even more dire for Valjean and Cossette as
Javert seems to be getting closer and closer to capturing the ex-con,
while a city-wide revolt looms that could spell doom for just about
from is truly spellbinding opening shot, LES MISERABLES is a visual
triumph as far as film musicals go. At
a rather scant $61 million budget, the film looks like it cost three times
as much, and on a scale of sheer and unbridled spectacle, Hooper’s film
is an unparalleled achievement. The
set and costume designs are Oscar caliber, as is the gorgeously sumptuous
cinematography of Danny Cohen, who bathes the vistas of his 19th Century
locales with a foreboding exquisiteness and intrigue.
Not since, say, MOULIN ROUGE has there been a screen musical to
simply lose yourself in its rich and awesome visual palette; as far as
escapist entertainments go, LES MISERABLES effortlessly transports you to a
different time and place as so few others have done before.
does not let the incredible look and design of the film get the better of
his performers. He does
something very compelling here: Instead of pre-recording the actors
singing and then having them lip-synch to the tracks later on set
(standard for most movie musicals), he opted to have his inspired and
talented vocal cast sing their performances live on set with
orchestral accompaniment coming in post production.
The effect here is kind of astonishing: the vocals here are not
crisp, perfectly enunciated, and polished.
Rather, they feel more pleasingly raw and in the moment, allowing
the actors to truly ground themselves in their respective characters and
the emotional whirlwind that they find themselves in at times.
It allows scenes to resonate more passionately and deeply with
oh my, what grand and inspiring vocal performances we have here, which
range from giddily comic to genuinely heartbreaking.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are given a lion’s
share of the more eclectically humorous set pieces, whereas younger
performers like Redmayne, Seyfried, and Barks give an eager and tender vocal tenor
to the mix. Hugh Jackman’s
casting is a real coup de grace, mostly because I have never seen a side
of him as an actor as what's on display here.
Not only does he bring a physical gravitas to the role of Valjean,
but he also he gives a shockingly accomplished tenor-like boisterousness
to his vocals that I honestly didn’t think he was capable of
mustering. Jackman has always been an unappreciated performer, but he
more than makes a case of Oscar worthiness here.
Russell Crowe, on the other hand, may not be Jackman’s singing
equal here, but I liked his rough and rugged machismo and rock opera
magnetism he lends to his role of the fanatical Javert.
He gives it his all as well.
single most memorable and gifted performance, though, belongs to Anne
Hathaway, and even though she occupies very little of the film’s already
robust 158 minute running time, she is the undeniable heart and soul of
the entire film. Hathaway’s skills as an actress hardly need embellishment (see RACHEL GETTING MARRIED),
but I was perhaps not prepared for the excruciating and overflowing
heartbreak she’s brings to Fantine’s key moments in the film.
The most intoxicating sequence she occupies is the film's most
deceptively simply in construction – Hooper shoots it all in tight close
up with no cutaways for minutes – as she belts out a showstopper for the
ages in her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”
I’ve rarely seen a character so positively traumatized by grief
and pain while singing on screen, and Hathaway sells every solitary moment
of Fantine’s downtrodden existence in this remarkable tour de force
moment. It’s one of the
best scenes of the year highlighting one of the best performances –
singing or not – of the year as well.
the film were to have a weakness then it would perhaps be that it’s
somewhat too long, but it certainly captures the broad scope of its
settings and time period. Yet,
again, I was so utterly engrossed with the whole audaciousness of approach
here and with the sheer and immeasurable pageantry of everything on screen
that I found it hard to nitpick.
Hooper’s boldness here is noteworthy, not to mention gutsy (a near three-hour
extravaganza where almost every single line of dialogue is sung and sung
live as the actors execute their scenes…yikes!).
Some have criticized this film for being too bombastic, but
that’s what truly separates it from all others in the pack: LES
MISERABLES is the type of epically envisioned movie musical that we just
don’t get in mass quantities anymore, and one full of humor, action,
romance, and catastrophe. It’s
hard to make a quiet and unassuming film out of this kind of material.