One of the most iconic and emotionally compelling Broadway musicals receives the Hollywood treatment yet again, this time with Tom Hooper at the helm. With an all-star cast and some of the greatest music to date, Les Miserables proves it is a true Oscar contender for best film.
The story centers on Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, a man who has been in prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family and then multiple escape attempts. Despite being set free, he will be on probation for the rest of his life, making it virtually impossible to lead an honest life for himself because of the stigma of being a convict. Constantly nipping at his heels is inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe, who is to ensure that Valjean’s probation is fulfilled. Realizing he can’t make live his life as Valjean, he makes a new identity for himself as a factory owner. There he runs into Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, setting into events that change their lives forever.
Instantly, the audience falls in love with Fantine; she is first cast out of the factory after a scuffle with the supervisor. She turns to the street to make her living, undergoing the horrors therein, all for the sake of her daughter Cosette. The song (she sings) is both heart wrenching and inspiring as we see what someone will sacrifice for ones they love, and it becomes one of the most prevalent themes in the film. Nearly everyone here is constantly and only out for themselves. However, through the selfishness and in spite of the scoundrels, there are several instances of legitimate compassion and selflessness that revitalizes hope.
There is the Monsignor who lies to the police so that Valjean isn’t sent back to prison. Valjean, in turn, raises Cosette as his own daughter so that she can have a rich, full life. Even Javert, the film’s primary antagonist, isn’t without his moment that would be his redemption. This film’s greatest strength is the complexity of its characters. There are no archetypes here to speak of; nothing is clear-cut black and white right and wrong.
Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, who must give up the woman he loves so that he can fight the revolution he believes in. Eponine, played by Samantha Barks, encourages Marius to pursue Cosette, regardless of her own love for him. Valjean, a thief, spends most of the film risking being caught for breaking his probation because he is protecting another. It is through those complexities that the characters are given a grander sense of depth and it becomes much easier to sympathize with their plight and revel in their triumphs.
As a musical, the singing and accompaniment is crucial to a successful movie, and this is no exception. Les Miserablesnot only meets those demands, but sets the bar for any to come after it. By using very talented actors who are also able to sing instead of talented singers who happen to act, the emotion behind each of the words is much more poignant and sincere. Crowe and Hathaway are particularly noteworthy in this regard. Although their vocal ranges are not on par with their Broadway counterparts, and the sound may not be as clear as it would be if it were done in a sound studio and dubbed into the film at a later date; there is something much more raw and powerful about each of the performances that make it stronger than any incarnation that has come from Hollywood to date.
The settings range from vibrant to the dreary, yet despite the time and place are never drab or ordinary. Each location only serves to enhance the scene; never diminish or distract from it through the use of brilliant cinematography.
Les Miserables is a nearly perfect film; containing intricate characters who interact on multiple emotional levels at varying points in time that accurately tell an interesting and compelling story through strong dialogue and great music on beautiful sets. Even those with an aversion to dramas and musicals should still see this film. This is in definite contention for movie of the year, and it is very easy to see why.
Four stars out of four. Opens Christmas day, watch the trailer here.