By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 7 out of 10
The translation of musicals to the big screen has been a hit-or-miss scenario. Films such as Hairspray have succeeded where films such as the adaptation of Phantom of the Opera falls short of expectation. Les Miserables is the Mona Lisa of musicals and it takes no small feat to translate one of the most epic musicals of all time to the big screen. Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech had the massive task of translating Les Miserables to the big screen and, for the most part, succeeds. Held up by the strength of its cast, this larger than life production goes too big for its own good at times but manages to pull itself together to be a solid movie musical.
Les Miserables tells the conjoined story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man arrested and sentenced to 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his nephew. After being released from prison, Valjean violates his parole and assumes a new identity to begin to begin anew. His journey takes him to Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he becomes a factory owner who soon comes in contact with Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a poor mother who works to send money to her estranged daughter, Cosette. Soon the lives of Valjean and Cosette become entwined with revolution, all while Valjean is constantly hunted by Javert, a prison guard-turned police inspector.
Hooper made sure that he had the best cast possible for this iteration of Les Miserables and he succeeds for the most part. The casting of Jackman in the lead role is ideal, the actor has shown his chops on Broadway with roles in Oklahoma! and The Boy From Oz. Jackman owns this role and every note that he hits is filled with emotion.
The best thing about Les Miserables is the fact that all of the songs in the film were sung on camera. Usually, the songs are pre-recorded in a studio then the actors lip sync the words when they are on camera. Not the case here. Using piano accompaniment through earpieces, the voices that you hear on screen is the actors singing live on camera. What this opens the door to is an absolutely incredible sense of realism and connection with the characters, which is only solidified through the song that this film rendition will be most remembered for.
Anne Hathaway has put herself firmly into the best supporting actress Oscar chase with her brief but outstanding performance as Fantine. Her moving performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” only cements that claim. In that one-shot scene, Hathaway completely sucks you into the performance and into her world and it is easily the best part of the film. It would be a shock if the actress walks away without a good amount of awards after this performance.
One hiccup in the casting is Russell Crowe as Javert. Although Crowe has shown his mantle as an actor, hearing him sing, especially against the talented Jackman and Hathaway really shows how far he still has left to go. Javert’s character is a mesmerizing one, but at the same time having Crowe sing the role takes you away from his performance enough where you’re not sucked in the same amount as Jackman or Hathaway.
There are many moments in Les Miserables where the film shows off how great it can be – while at other moments the film completely stumbles and falls short of its ultimate goal. Going big on screen is an advantage of working in the media, but at the same time, going too big some time hurts the film, which is what happens in Les Miserables. Before the revolutionary piece begins to pick up, the film suffers a serious slow-down in pace after “I Dreamed a Dream”, as much of the promise shown in the first 45 minutes seems to go to naught in a muddled mess of innkeeper drinking songs and shots of Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter stealing valuables from tenants. In a three hour movie, perhaps some cuts could have been made to allow this part of the film to move along.
Once the battles at the barricade take place, the film manages to pick itself up enough to get to the ending, but the dragging middle section of the film will turn off the casual viewer. There is a great deal to like in Les Mis and enough for the film to be memorable, but in the end viewers will wish for a more refined product.
Les Miserables will please fans of the original musical that are looking for the proper translation of the Broadway classic to the screen. The idea to have the actors sing on camera was a risky one, but one that works out in the end. However, the over-the-top expectations of the project ultimately hurts the production, as many parts in the film do not work as well as others. Regardless, Les Miserables is a film that should be seen for the spectacle alone and should be seen for the Oscar-caliber performance by Anne Hathaway. A solid musical wrapped in a bevy of talented actors make this Broadway classic a worthwhile escape.