Another timeless Broadway musical has made its way to the big screen. This time it is the story of Jean Valjean during the French Revolution in Les Misérables. The Academy Award nominated film by director Tom Hooper brings audiences closer than ever to stage production. Does this musical adaptation suffer on its way to the big screen or will it make audiences sing its praises?
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has been in captivation for 19-years, surviving a prison sentence stealing bread to feed his sister’s children and multiple attempted prison escapes. Even when he eventually make parole he is a dead man, unable to get an occupation due to his crime and shelter to keep him warm. It’s not until a Bishop decides that every man deserves another chance at life and asks Valjean to make an honest man of himself.
Six years have passed and Jean Valjean has made a new life for himself. He is wealthy factory owner and is appointed mayor. A well-loved and respected man, Valjean makes but one mistake that connects him to his past. The town’s police inspector, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), sees Valjean’s act of strength and connects him to the former incarcerated man who hasn’t been following his parole. This distracts Valjean from the plight of one of his factory workers, the lovely Fantine (Anne Hathaway).Fantine’s time is short, but Hathaway makes it so her part will always be remembered.
Fantine gets kicked out on the curb when it’s discovered she has a bastard child to support. What follows is the demise of Fantine as she loses everything to support her child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Jaljean takes custody of the young Cosette and continues fleeing from the law. Not to mention this is all during the backdrop of the French Revolution, where Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) have begun to stand up to their oppressors.
To say Les Misérables is an epic musical would be an understatement. Clocking in at just shy of three hours, Les Misérables could surely use the intermission appointed to its musical incarnation. Not to mention the innovations that Tom Hooper has introduced to the musical genre. Each of the actors performed their parts live of set with such the instrumental tracks of the songs playing in their ears. The camera moves into almost suffocating close-ups of every actor while they belt out their lines. Everyone has moment with tears in their eyes and complete sorrow, but obviously there are highlights among them. Academy Award nominees Hugh Jackman And Anne Hathaway completely own their performances. The first fifteen minutes of Les Misérables is a career highlight reel for Hugh Jackman as his commitment to his performance is detailed according to an interview with Vulture:
“I was spending even longer in the gym—like three hours in the gym—because I needed to be as emaciated as possible, but still keep some muscle on for Jean Valjean.” He continued, detailing his strict diet and exercise regime for the role, and it goes without saying that Hugh is extremely dedicated to his craft.” He’s actually written as an ox of a man, so I had to eat seven times a day with no carbohydrates, but then you had the exercise. I’d wake up and do 45 minutes of [cardio] on an empty stomach, eat something, go to the gym, do a vocal warm-up, and then after lunch I’d go back to the gym again. Otherwise, I’d just become skin and bones.”
His weight loss wasn’t the only strength of his role. He uses all his Broadway talents to make songs “Bring Him Home” and “Valjean’s Soliloguy” his own. Anne Hathaway uses her brief time as Fantine to captivate audiences and capture their hearts. In her much scrutinized performance of “I Dreamed A Dream”, Hathaway’s pain is palpable as she sings about a brighter life after she has been ruined body and soul. Fantine’s time is short, but Hathaway makes it so her part will always be remembered.
While the two standouts are Jackman and Hathaway, there are others who perform admirably as well. Eddie Redmayne in particular with his solo of “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables”, reminiscences about his comrades lost during the French Revolution. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen bring their previous experience on Sweeney Todd to the most comedic piece in the feature, “Master Of The House”. Arguably, the only weak links are Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. While Crowe does his best, it seems as though he doesn’t have the range needed for the vital part. Seyfried seems almost wooden in her performance of Cosette, although that could be just how the character is written.
Fans of Les Misérables fear not, this musical is the film adaptation you’ve been waiting for. While Russell Crowe leaves a little to be desired and the extreme close-ups will turn some filmgoers off, Les Misérables excites with its innovation and career performances from Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Les Misérables will have the people singing its song for years to come.