Vive la musicale! – ★★★
Tom Hooper’s first film since the Oscar winning The King’s Speech is sure to pick up an award or two this February. Taking on the world’s longest running musical is no easy task, yet he has transformed the songs from stage to screen and surely captured some new fans along the way.
Les Misérables deals with the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and how his life changes forever when he jumps his parole and goes on the run from the law – principally Javert (Russell Crowe). He encounters Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and vows to take care of her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen, later Amanda Seyfried). He continues his life in the shadows, hiding from Javert and stopping at nothing to protect his beloved Cosette, but when a lovestruck Mauris (Eddie Redmayne) spies her in the street one day Valjean can protect her no more. At a guess I would say there are about 20 lines of actual dialogue in the entire film and for one that isn’t that far off three hours this is an impressive feat. Yes be warned they sing all the time, even the bits between the songs.
When it comes to the songs all perform perfectly, unfortunately it’s the singing of dialogue where most are let down, particularly Jackman as his accent veers all around the world, even seeming Irish at times. He starts too high and looks unsure how much power a piece should carry. The best at this is Crowe, given his deeper voice it doesn’t seem to jar as much, although admittedly it takes a few minutes to get your head around Gladiator singing to Wolverine. Anne Hathaway, the woman women love to hate gives a brilliant rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream”, certainly the emotional high point of the film. The big ensemble numbers look brilliant culminating in “One Day More”, the rousing call to arms and summation of each protagonist’s dilemma set against the backdrop of the June Rebellion of 1832 in Paris.
In the stage version here ends Act I, intermission, stretch the legs, have a glass of wine and then settle in for Act II. No such luxury in the cinema and this is where a lot of the steam runs out for the film, with the big numbers over, we now have a series of songs where characters profess their love for one another, for God and for their way of life. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter offer the only light relief as Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier, both clearly relishing their less than savoury characters. It’s great to see Colm Wilkinson appearing as the Bishop; Wilkinson was the first Jean Valjean when Les Misérables opened in the West End in 1985 and although now living in Canada, he was born in the Dublin suburb of Drimnagh. Rousing numbers aside, the film is quite depressing if you examine it closely and not to give anything away but there is a touch of Pulp Fiction when the ending comes around.
By no means the best film of the year but brave and true to it’s source material, Les Miserables is a film that fans of the musical will take a lot from. If only Hopper hadn’t stuck so rigidly to the story we may have been treated to a more palatable film.
UK / Directed By: Tom Hooper / Written By: William Nicholson / Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Isabelle Allen, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Colm Wilkinson / 157min / Musical / Release: 25 December 2012 (USA, Canada), 11 January 2013 (Ireland, UK)