The musical masterpiece that is Les Misérables has finally been immortalised on film in an equally staggering portrayal directed by Oscar nominated Tom Hooper. In the words of prison guard Javert, prisoner 24601’s time is up and his parole has begun. Cue 150 minutes of turmoil, battles for survival, love, sacrifice, some stellar renditions of the musical’s well-known classics, and just wishing you knew the reason why Gavroche, a Parisian boy, has a notably cockney accent.
The story, based on Victor Hugo’s hefty novel of the same name, primarily follows ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he sets out to be the best possible version of himself. In the meantime, Javert (Russell Crowe) is on a relentless man hunt because, by going on the run, Valjean has broken the rules of his parole. Despite becoming Mayor of Montreuil, the former prison mate does not ignore the needy and unfortunate; from the moment he promises a desperate mother called Fantine (Anne Hathaway) that he will look after her child, the rest of his life is dramatically changed. The second half of the film also involves a tumultuous student uprising in Paris, and one of the most exhilarating finales I’ve ever experienced outside of a live theatre show.
Jackman was even better than I anticipated; his storytelling through song was second to none. His fellow Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway was also extraordinary and her Fantine will break the hearts of any who are exposed to her rendition of the iconic, I Dreamed a Dream. As for Russell Crowe…at least when the film comes out on DVD we have the luxury of volume control. Having said that, he did have moments where the singing ability took a backseat and I was just too impressed with his acting performance to care which notes he was attempting to hit. Put it this way, I doubt you’ll find his vocals anywhere near as bad as Monsieur Brosnan’s in the Mamma Mia movie.
It was fantastic to see cameos from original Les Mis legends such as Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Jean Valjean on stage in London back in the 80s. Speaking of ‘back in the day’, Hooper’s decision to have the cast sing live for every take, rather than dubbing their pre-recorded voices over the top, has not been used in film since around the 1930s and it really worked in this movie’s favour. The spontaneity of the acting choices made whilst singing live produced more raw and honest performances, just like those we come to expect in a professional stage production, especially when Eddie Redmayne sang ‘Empty Chairs At Empty Tables’ and whenever Hugh Jackman opened his mouth. This approach also benefited the comedic timing of the disgustingly bizarre yet uproarious Thénardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen).
I will undoubtedly be making another trip to see this master class in performing and film making. Les Misérables is a must see, for both life long fans of the musical and those who are new to this timeless story.