I’m not a big musical fan, but ever since Tom Hooper played Pied Piper on me with his cinematic rendition of “Les Misérables,” I can’t stop thinking about it or keep the songs out of my head and I’m likely not to be the only convert once it hits theaters.
Hooper — who was last seen racking up Best Picture, Actor, Director and Screenplay Oscars for 2010’s “The King’s Speech” — is definitely up to the challenge of bringing the beloved novel/musical to a both old and new audiences alike in a beautiful epic that dazzles on the big screen.
While most film musicals have a balance between the singing and talking, most of the dialogue “Les Misérables” is sung, which takes some getting used to, but the actors convey the necessary emotions to tell the story while you catch up. Those who know the lyrics to all the songs should have no problems getting immediately swept away. Hooper had the actors perform live with a hidden earpiece so they could hear an accompanying piano and sing and act at same time instead of the more common lip-synching to their already recorded performances. The decision pays off and the actors deliver extremely passionate performances.
Jean Valjean (a mesmerizing Hugh Jackman, “Rise of the Guardians”) has completed a 19-year prison sentence, but Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) figures it’s inevitable he’ll break parole and be right back in prison. Crowe is one of the more intriguing performers because you don’t think of “Mr. Gladiator” as a singer. While his singing never appears effortless, his screen presence is such that you still buy into Javert’s threat.
Valjean is shocked when a kindly bishop offers him a hot meal and bed and even more so when the bishop learns Valjean stole from him and lies to keep him out of prison.
The bishop’s act of kindness has a lasting impact on Valjean, who breaks parole and assumes a new identity — factory owner Monsier Madeline. That works fine until Javert comes to town, sending Valjean into such a desperate state that he doesn’t have time to handle a dispute between two of his workers.
Unjustly fired, Fantine (Anne Hathaway, “The Dark Knight Rises”) now has no means to support her illegitimate daughter, Cosette, and is forced to sell all her possessions from her jewelry to her hair to finally, her body in order to take care of Cosette.
In a 10-minute span, Hathaway renders the Best Supporting Actress competition moot. With her devastatingly haunting performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” Hathaway conveys a level of heartbreak that I haven’t seen in years. Fatine is broken and Hathaway lays bare all Fatine’s emotions of frustration, bitterness, anger and hopeless. Hathaway, a 2009 Best Actress Oscar nominee for “Rachel Getting Married,” has to be the favorite for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
After learning of his role in Fantine’s fate, Valjean pledges to care for Cosette while trying to stay one step ahead of Javert. Their paths cross again decades later in the midst of the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) is a young woman and has fallen for Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who has been a proud member of the rebellion alongside his best friend, Enjolras (a fiery Aaron Tveit). Valjean risks his life to meet the man who’s won Cosette’s heart to determine his worth and unknowingly sets up his final confrontation with Javert.
Despite the heavier tone, Hooper is able to craft some fun memorable scenes such as the silly, but entertaining “Master of the House” number featuring the inspired pairing of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Cosette’s crooked caretakers. The rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing” will have you standing up in the aisle ready to march against oppression.
Hooper almost packs in too many bombastic musical numbers for one sitting — it’s a film that will almost benefit from an intermission or a nice long pause once it’s available for viewing at home — but it’s the kind of grand spectacle that has to be seen at least once in theaters to take in in its full glory. Just try and resist the urge to give it a standing ovation when the credits start.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo credit: Laurie Sparham/Universal Studios