Ah, another Broadway musical re-imagined for the cinema. After the quite in-your-face Rock of Ages in June, it was only time before a grand and beloved musical gets the cinematic treatment. Now, after almost twenty years since its initial development (and disregarding the 1998 non-singing adaptation starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman and Claire Danes), Les Misérables – the musical – finally hits the big screen.
Les Misérables is the five-volume 19th Century novel written by French author Victor Hugo. Convicted thief Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) breaks his parole soon after his release and goes on the run. With Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) on his tail, he reforms his life to become an up-standing citizen and takes in the young daughter of tragic Fantine (Hathaway), before getting involved in a revolutionary period in France.
For such a beloved musical, there was a delicate issue of timing, grandness and more importantly, fan anticipation to deal with. It was not until Tom Hooper won the Best Director Academy Award in 2010 for The King’s Speech and the 25th Anniversary of the West End production that the project was revived. Hooper relies on the dramatics relevant to such a high-profile gig, taking in vast landscapes and swooping camera angles, but in doing so, seems to create a dizzy-inducing headache that you tend to get from one too many rollercoasters. It just seems to have an aim to bring about a much bigger world for something that is essentially much smaller and intimate, thus upsetting the balance of its reworking.
Gladiator writer William Nicholson, however, has done wonders in conveying the dialogue from stage to screen – effectively opening up the Les Mis for younger audiences or those who have yet to see the stage musical. The star-studded performances of the film’s varied cast are the key here in bringing together the raw emotion of Nicholson’s dialogue and Hooper’s vision. Getting the cast to sing on-set is quite brilliant, as the rawness and emotion probably wouldn’t be as effective through playback.
The two male leads represent the backbone of the story; Jackman’s morally conflicted Valjean – a coward in places but essentially a man open to reform – and Crowe’s determined Jalvert, who doesn’t stray away from his line of duty. Their vocals are quite gruff and unrefined (even more so in Crowe’s case; reaffirming that he is evidently more of an actor than a singer), but it is easy to say that Anne Hathaway and I Do Anything‘s Samantha Barks outshine everyone as tragic heroines Fantine and Éponine respectively. Listening them warble their way through their signature pieces, I Dreamed a Dream (Su-Bo doesn’t have anything on this girl) and On My Own (overwriting memories of an early Dawson’s Creek episode), it is hard not to leap to your feet and applaud wildly…or control your tears.
The supporting roles, ranging from Amanda Seyfried’s innocent Cosette, Eddie Redmayne’s Marius and the raucous yet incredibly watchable Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as petty pickpockets the Thénardiers, fill in the blanks leaving the core cast members to carry the story through to its emotionally-packed and soaring finale.
Epic in every sense of the word though occasionally unpolished as an uncut diamond, Les Misérables stirs the heart and soul of every musical fan.